Schools menace: Minister on attack

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT went on the offensive yesterday over the issue of drugs in schools, with the Education minister Estelle Morris accusing her Tory critics of "hypocrisy or ignorance".

Ms Morris caused controversy on Monday when she advised schools to think twice before excluding pupils found with drugs - unless they were trafficking. She was criticised by John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, who said exclusion was a vital weapon in maintaining discipline. "There is enormous pressure from governors and parents to make schools a drug-free zone, and the Government should support schools doing that."

David Willetts, shadow Secretary of State for Education, yesterday accused Ms Morris of "undercutting the position" of head teachers. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If a head wants ... zero tolerance at his or her school they should be free to do so."

But Ms Morris hit back by quoting the Tories' own guidance to schools - which echoes her comments. That guidance, due to be updated by the Government this week, said: "The fact that certain behaviour could constitute a violation of the criminal law should not ... automatically lead to exclusion."

Ms Morris said: "The fact is that David Willetts is being either hypocritical or ignorant, since Tory ministers made clear that they did not expect permanent exclusions in all cases and suggested that schools should have a repertoire of responses."

The Government was committed to tackling the menace of drugs in schools, which was why it was investing pounds 22.5m in drugs education over the next three years, she said. And she added: "Our guidance updates the 1995 guidance, making it very clear it is for schools to decide on whether to exclude permanently for all incidents connected with drugs - and pointing out that fixed-term exclusions may be more appropriate on some occasions."

Unison national officer John Findlay, representing educational social workers, backed Ms Morris. "It is too simplistic just to say that the kids should be excluded, that the problem should be put back on to the streets ... We need to keep these kids included in the system so that this issue can be dealt with properly."

The National Children's Bureau also expressed support for a "balanced" approach.