Eton institutes drug rehab programme for pupils

Top school has revised its policy on cannabis. By Annabel Fallon and Jonathan Thompson
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A typical punishment used to be "six of the best" from the house captain in front of the whole school, and for really serious crimes, instant expulsion. But now Eton College, the most famous public school in the world, has decided to alter its approach to one of the worst of schoolboy crimes - drug-taking.

From next month, the school that since its foundation in 1440 has educated generations of royalty and produced 19 prime ministers, will launch a Priory-style drug rehab programme for its well-heeled teenage pupils.

Previously, students caught using drugs at the £20,000-a-year school near Windsor would have been given their marching orders instantly. Now the headmaster, Tony Little, has decided to implement a new strategy, focused on rehabilitation.

"In the past year, we have lost a couple of boys to drugs. I have no doubt that drugs are a significant temptation to our pupils," said Mr Little. "We are revising our policy so that pupils of concern can attend counselling and rehabilitation programmes."

The move comes after Prince Harry admitted to smoking cannabis last January, while still at Eton. Sent to a rehab clinic by his father as punishment, Harry only escaped expulsion from Eton because his drug consumption happened out of term time.

Since 1994, the school is believed to have expelled at least 12 pupils for using drugs, but there was an indication of changing attitudes as early as August last year. Lord Jamie Loughborough, son of Peter Loughborough, head of the Royal Protection Squad, was suspended from Eton after accusations that he passed cannabis to younger boys in his house. After protests from his classmates, the 17-year-old was reinstated.

Eton is not the only high-profile public school where drug use remains a contentious issue. Only yesterday, two pupils were suspended from Edinburgh's prestigious Fettes College after being found in possession of cannabis. The students, aged 15 and 17, were automatically excluded from the private school, whose former students include Tony Blair, after being found on the school premises with a small quantity of the drug.

Eton's new, more lenient approach to drugs has been backed by the Headmasters' Conference, the organisation which represents the country's leading independent schools.

The Rev John Barrett, who chaired a report by the organisation into drug use in schools, said: "Most independent boarding schools are moving in the same direction. Instead of one sniff of drugs and you are out of the door, schools are becoming more flexible."

As headmaster of the Leys School, an exclusive £19,000-a-year boarding school in Cambridge, Mr Barrett's policy is to judge each drugs case individually.

"I think most parents would expect a difference in response to a pupil who was dealing, and a situation whereby two or three pupils were caught experimenting with cannabis behind the bike shed," he said.

Malvern College is another prominent independent school to have recently introduced a drugs-counselling service.

Last night, an old Etonian, who wished to remain anonymous, described his experience of drug use while a pupil at the school.

"Eton has a huge drug problem. Even in the lower years there were boys who took pills and coke," said the graduate, who left Eton five years ago.

Last night, leading drug experts welcomed the innovative approaches by schools such as Malvern and Eton. A spokesperson for Drugscope said: "If you suspect a young person to have a problem with drugs, it is surely better to pass them on to experts who can provide help - in order to assist them - rather than simply exclude them."