Education Quandary

'Would testing pupils for drugs help us to deal with a growing problem in our school?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

You need to ask yourselves some serious questions here. Such as what, exactly, are you aiming to do if you bring in drug tests? Will they work? And what will a testing programme do to your school culture?

Some schools - mostly independent boarding schools - have been using drugs tests for years, but by and large only if they think that a pupil is under the influence. A few schools use random testing, and the apparent success of one school in Kent, whose exam results shot up after it introduced testing for 20 random pupils a week, has now led to the scheme being piloted throughout the county.

But, by law, tests can only ever be voluntary. Any pupil can refuse. And schools cannot expel a pupil on the basis of a positive test, as it is not a criminal offence to have drugs in your system.

So the main point of testing is to send out a strong message on drugs, to help children face down peer pressure, and to reassure parents that your school is a drug-free zone.

Against this is the very big question of whether it could undermine trust between pupils and teachers, and lead to an unproductive atmosphere of resentment and defiance.

Bear in mind, too, that there is conclusive proof that testing works. The most comprehensive study to date, of middle and high schools in the USA, showed that it actually had a negligible impact on children's drug-taking.

Drugs are a dreadful, pernicious problem. You are right to want to tackle it head-on. But if you do introduce testing, be careful to make certain that it is part of a wider package of help and support.

Readers' advice

This was talked through at our student council. The school was thinking about doing it, but wanted to know what we thought. Most of us thought it wouldn't make much difference, and that it could easily come to be seen as pretty cool to refuse to take a test, or be tested positive. They never did bring it in.

Joe Jenkins, Durham

Is this yet another thing we teachers are going to be asked to do? Are we going to be expected to lurk around in the toilets grabbing bottles of fresh pee from students and sticking probes into them? I can't imagine your teachers being thrilled about being asked to do that. But if not them, will you use school funds to pay for someone else to do it?

Jilly Rainham, Hertfordshire

Drugs are a huge problem at my children's school, too, and I think it should test pupils. At the moment they openly smoke joints in the high street at lunchtime, and my children say everyone knows who is selling drugs, and who takes them. I've asked the school about it, and they just point to the drugs policy. But drugs are so strong and harmful these days; we must do more to tackle them.

Kate Bogle, Surrey

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

My son is a bright, intelligent child, but disorganised. His teacher wrote "I despair" in his book, and went on to use the same description of him at parents' evening. She eventually apologised after I repeatedly said that I thought it was inappropriate and that she was making my son unhappy, but I am still upset. Should I take it further?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 20 November to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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