Playground that bristles with used needles

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STAFF check the playground for used needles every morning at Townfield First School in Doncaster. Usually they call the council in to remove them but there is always a bucket and a pair of gloves on hand for emergencies, writes Fran Abrams.

The school is surrounded by playing fields which act as a focus for local drug users. Both needles and condoms are commonplace and, instead of being taught to pick up litter, children are told to fetch an adult if they see anything lying in the playground. The pupils, aged between five and nine, must ask a dinner lady to retrieve their footballs from the hedge because there may be syringes in it.

Some of the pupils' parents are illegal drug users, according to the headteacher, Mrs Tricia Campbell. She believes Townfield's problems have got worse in the past three years.

'We had a child playing with a hypodermic and we had to have an emergency assembly with the school nurse.

'Either the needles are thrown over the hedge or people are actually coming into the school grounds. We are on the edge of a red- light area,' she said.

The question of drug abuse is tackled in lessons for pupils aged seven and over, but until now the younger children have received little systematic education on the subject. Mrs Campbell believes that now is the time to tackle the problem head-on. With a group of other local headteachers, she hopes to visit the Netherlands to see how the Dutch handle the issue.