Heads' fears on radom drug testing

By John HowardHEADTEACHERS are seeking a meeting with a chief constable to discuss their fears about random drug testing and sniffer dogs in schools.

By John Howard

HEADTEACHERS are seeking a meeting with a chief constable to discuss their fears about random drug testing and sniffer dogs in schools.

They are concerned the traditional role of schools was being eroded as headteachers were asked to take on another new initiative that moved them into the realm of policing.

The move came after Prime Minister Tony Blair said guidance would be issued next month to headteachers “which is going to give them specifically the power to do random drug testing within their schools”.

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The latest guidance on drug testing was issued last week by the Department for Education and Skills.

It said headteachers were within their rights to ask police or private companies to bring sniffer dogs on to school premises or to employ drug testing.

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Adrian Williams, president of the Suffolk branch of the National Association of Headteachers, said: “This is yet another thing schools are being asked to think about and most heads are very anxious about it.

“We do not see why we should act as policemen. We have to act when there is drug use or trafficking and have policies for both.”

He added: “Heads have asked the Suffolk Chief Constable to talk to us about the implications so we can learn more about it. We will be interested to see what the chief constable has to say about sniffer dogs and random tests.

“We feel the random tests is a step too far. There are so many things we are asked to do and we are more than instructors, but you wonder if we have to be social services, a welfare department and everything else, which can get in the way.”

Gwen Randall, headteacher of Framlingham College, said it currently operated a drugs testing policy within strict parameters.

She added: “If the proposal is to introduce random drug testing into school, I think it's absolutely appalling. Random drug testing destroys the trust that exists between teachers and their pupils.

“We operate a policy whereby if we have reason to believe that a pupil has been involved with drugs, then we reserve the right to test.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said its chief constable, Alastair McWhirter, would be making arrangements to meet with headteachers as soon as possible.

“The Department of Education and Science guidance on this matter raises a number of complex issues which he is willing to discuss with them in detail,” she added.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said random drug testing could be seen by some people as going too far in the battle against substance abuse.

“There is a lot of work which goes on in schools aimed at preventing young people from taking drugs of any form,” he added.

“This should continue to be the main priority. Testing may damage the relationship between headteachers and pupils which should be based on respect and trust.”

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex National Union of Teachers, added: “This would place schools in an extremely difficult position.

“It is fraught with difficulties - not least the fact that parents would have to give their consent to such an activity. You can't just force a test on someone.

“At the end of the day, the growing use of drugs is a concern to the profession, but we should be dealing with the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.”

A Department for Education said: “The guidance applies to all forms of drug testing, whether random or routine.

“Notwithstanding all the sound and fury surrounding all this, let's not forget that at the end of the day drugs can have a devastating impact on young people's lives.”


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