Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Drug testing in schools evidence, impacts and alternatives

drug-testing-reportMy thanks go to Mike Ashton for pointing me in the direction of the Australian National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction which has produced a report [PDF 202 pages] on drug testing in schools.

The authors of the report don’t mince their words:

Overall, the body of evidence examined indicates a strong case to be made against drug detection and screening strategies being utilised in the school setting.

Amongst the things the authors say are that:

  1. Most drug tests are insufficiently reliable for testing in a setting such as schools.
  2. The cost of testing was found to be very large and would represent a substantial impost on any education system’s budget.
  3. A wide range of moral and legal issues act as serious concerns, if not impediments.
  4. Evidence indicates that drug testing is an ineffective deterrence mechanism.
  5. An effective array of school-based prevention interventions is now available to schools — interventions that focus on building positive relations and developing pupils’ sense of connectedness with the school.
  6. Effective mechanisms exist to target and intervene in appropriate ways with high-risk students and/or their families.

Much of this shouldn’t be news to readers of this blog, we’ve covered the issues and evidence on a number of occasions (you can download our paper on drug testing here and see our coverage of the issue on the blog here).

You can also read Mike’s take on the report over on Drug and Alcohol Findings.

What I want to focus the rest of this post on are the last two points.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: random drug testing

Parliamentary Questions

Charles Walker, the Conservative MP for Broxbourne, has put down a couple of questions to the DCSF.  On drug testing in schools he asks:

what support is available from his Department to schools which wish to introduce voluntary drug testing; and if he will make a statement.

In reply Sarah McCarthy-Fry says:

The Department’s guidance, Drugs: Guidance for Schools (DFES 2004) makes it clear that head teachers can introduce voluntary drug testing if they consider that such an approach is appropriate. It is essential that before a school takes the decision to introduce drug testing that it considers very carefully all of the factors outlined in the guidance, including whether such action will result in appropriate support for pupils most in need. In deciding whether to use this approach, schools are encouraged to consult with local partners, such as the police, who may be able to offer advice and support.

What she doesn’t say is that when they asked Sir Alan Steer to look at the idea of drug testing in schools last year he came back and said:

Random drug testing isn’t likely to be effective and the government shouldn’t run a pilot.

Mr Walker also asks if the government:

will commission research on the effect of cannabis use on academic outcomes; and if he will make a statement.

To which Beverley Hughes says:

We are committed to tackling all of the harms associated with cannabis use, including poor school performance or disengagement from education. Although there is no specific research currently planned on the effects of cannabis use on academic outcomes, we will keep this under review as part of our work in relation to developing a cross-Government drugs research strategy. Through delivery of the National Drugs Strategy we will continue to drive the sustained fall in cannabis use amongst young people that we have experienced since 2001.

Luckily for us we don’t have to wait for government research as there’s some about already.  Susan Greenfield made a number of references to the accademic literature in her piece for the TES a few years ago (which provoked some debate on this blog), and the JRF also have a very pertinent paper on this subject.

Update – I’ve done a bit more digging and see that Mr Walker is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis and Children.

Filed under: cannabis, Parliament, random drug testing

First randomised trial finds little benefit and some risks in routinely testing school pupils for drugs

Mike Ashton, of Drug and Alcohol Findings, has been kind enough to bring to my attention a piece of US research on the random testing of school athletes.  Here’s the abstract:

US study of randomly testing secondary school pupils involved in extracurricular sports was equivocal about its deterrent impact and found some deterioration in attitudes to risktaking, adding to a slim evidence base which has so far found little benefit to justify the risks and the costs.

Get the whole thing here.

Filed under: Drug and Alcohol Findings, random drug testing, research, USA

Testing Teachers?

While the government have moved away from randomly testing pupils for illegal drug use, the public think that teachers should be added to the list of employees that are routinely tested.

A survey carried out by ICM for the Observer found that:

85 per cent now feel that police officers should undergo routine testing to see if they have been using illicit substances compared with 61 per cent six years ago, when The Observer last conducted an in-depth poll on drugs. Just 46 per cent believed teachers should face testing then; now 68 per cent do. The same trend emerged for pilots, drivers, doctors and nurses.

When Neil McKeganey called for research on drug testing on pupils and teachers in Scotland a couple of years ago the concept was condemned as “unethical” by teaching unions and education leaders and I doubt they would see things differently today.

Part of the difficulty I have with polls like this one is that people are asked to give opinions without any context.  I wonder whether the answers would change if the public were aware of the costs of undertaking testing.

You may remember that, when the DIP programme was carrying out testing of young people, the set up costs were in the range of £7,000 to £35,000, while running costs ranged from £10,000 to £44,000 and the cost per test were between £57 to £121.  I’ve no way of knowing whether these costs are a reasonable equivalent for the sort of testing that the Observer is asking about, but I’d argue that it would be critical information I’d want to consider were I a policy maker in the DCSF.

As far as I can assertain there were 441,200 full time equivalent regular teachers in maintained schools in England in January 2008, and 25,000 schools.

All of which is before we get the tricky question of whether testing is an effective way of reducing the problems that drugs cause.

Filed under: random drug testing, teachers

From the Archive

Drug and Alcohol Findings have just made available two short articles from 2003 available for download.

They may be of interest:

Tick Box Returns No Guarantee of Quality Drug Education looks at the findings from the last Ofsted report on drug education back in 2003.

Testing Pupils For Drugs Does Not Reduce Drug Use examines the most significant American research on student drug testing.

Filed under: drug education, random drug testing, school drug policy,

Sir Alan Steer’s Report

Having had a frustrating day waiting for the report to go up on the DCSF website I’ve now been sent a scanned copy, which you can download here.

It’s not a long report, but here’s a quick summary of what Sir Alan says about drugs (including alcohol).

  • It is customary for schools to occasionally search pupils, but the law as it currently stands doesn’t give protection to schools or teachers.  He believes this should change so that they do have protection.
  • Searches should be with the consent of pupils, as a matter of good practice.  Where that consent is not forthcoming then the local police should be involved.
  • Searching should always be exercised with caution and if the power to do so is to be widened then there needs to be new guidance.  This guidance should make it clear that random searches should not happen [presumably this means with drug dogs too!]
  • School staff need training on recognising and dealing with situations of drug or alcohol misuse.
  • Drug education is imporant as a part of a wider prevention strategy.
  • Random drug testing isn’t likely to be effective and the government shouldn’t run a pilot.

My understanding is that the government has accepted all of these recommendations.

Filed under: drug policy, random drug testing, school drug policy,

Sir Alan Steer – Media Reaction


Teachers should be able to search pupils to stop them bringing alcohol and drugs into school, says a review on tackling bad behaviour among pupils.

Sir Alan Steer is to deliver proposals from his government-commissioned review of ways to raise discipline in schools.

Alcohol is identified as a growing problem and Sir Alan wants teachers in England to have the legal power to search pupils and confiscate drink.

Sir Alan Steer talking to Evan Davis on the Today Programme

ITN on the same story:

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls welcomed the report and indicated that ministers were ready to bring in legislation to implement the search powers which would also cover cigarettes and stolen property.

“I want to build on the powers we have already given teachers following Sir Alan’s earlier recommendations on searching for weapons by extending these to cover drugs, alcohol and other inappropriate items,” he said.

“It will ensure that everyone knows that a teacher’s authority in the classroom is unquestionable and teachers are clear about their right to use them.”

The Daily Mail report on how these proposals have gone down with one of the teaching unions:

Teachers’ leaders gave only a guarded welcome to the proposals last night. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘Teachers would need to exercise these powers with great caution.

‘While teachers may have the power to search, we don’t have the power to stop the pupil reacting against the search, and the reaction could be extreme.

‘These pupils are not likely to be models of good behaviour in the school community, and any situation could be extremely volatile.

‘If teachers are given these powers, which they would welcome them, they also need to be given protection and should not have to search alone.’

The Telegraph:

In future, the Government wants more heads to work with police to establish “Safer School Partnerships” to drive out weapons, drugs and alcohol from their schools, while “parent advisors” will be asked to contribute suggestions in the event of trouble.

In the second of his planned three reports into discipline in schools, which ministers hope will help tackle youth crime more generally, Sir Alan will also say that alcohol remains more of a problem than drugs in most schools.


Teachers are to be given the power to search pupils for drugs and alcohol in a fresh crackdown on unruly behaviour in schools, the Government signalled.

The extension of existing powers to search pupils for weapons is a key recommendation of the latest report of the Government’s top adviser on behaviour in schools, Sir Alan Steer.

The Sun:

TEACHERS will be given powers to search pupils for booze and drugs in a crackdown on classroom behaviour.

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls promised to give schools more muscle to tackle disruption.

Heads are already able to frisk pupils they believe may be carrying weapons.

But Mr Balls now plans to allow them to look for stolen goods, alcohol and even cigarettes.

Update: The Independent, Times and Mirror have very much the same story as everyone else.  But the Guardian add some more detail:

Steer warned that strict controls should be in placed before searches are carried out. They should only be exercised with the authority of the headteacher, carried out by a person of the same gender as the pupil and in the presence of another responsible adult. All searches should be recorded and parents informed, he said.

He also advised schools to forge closer links with their local police force…

According to Steer, drug testing in schools would be unviable and unlikely to be effective. Alcohol was often a greater problem in classrooms.

“The power to search is a power that at all times should be exercised with caution,” said Steer.

The DCSF press release is now up on their site should you want to take a look.

Further Update: The Mirror run with the story again:

Booze is a greater problem in schools than drugs – and parents are to blame, a top adviser warns.

Sir Alan Steer, the Government’s boss on discipline, said mums and dads must be more responsible if schools are to tackle underage drinking.

Filed under: alcohol, Government, illegal drugs, random drug testing, school drug policy,

Heads Up – Steer Report

The Guardian report that Sir Alan Steer’s report on the progress made on improving discipline in schools will be published on Monday.

Sir Alan was asked to look at extending the protection that teachers have to cover searches for drugs, and to look at the future of the putative trial of random drug testing in schools.

You can hear Guardian reporter talking about the interview below.

Polly Curtis talking about Sir Alan Steer

Filed under: random drug testing, Uncategorized,

Highs and lows of drug testing

The Financial Times (free registration required) has an interesting article about workplace drug testing, which it seems are now moving beyond safety critical industries:

According to a survey carried out last year by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 22 per cent of UK employers test employees for drug and alcohol use, either randomly or when hiring new recruits. A further 9 per cent said they were planning to introduce testing.

According to the same survey, 31 per cent of employers had dismissed at least one person because of alcohol abuse in the past two years and 15 per cent because of drug problems.

In terms of school based testing, we know that there hasn’t been much interest in taking up the government’s offer of trialling it in England, but I wonder whether the increasing use of random testing that this article implies will make a difference to how it is perceived by parents.

Further reading:

Filed under: random drug testing,

Milan offers drug test kits to parents

Not apparently to test themselves, but to ask their children to take the test. I’ve heard of anything similar  being contemplated by local authorities in England, I’m pleased to say, but New Europe tells us how the thing will work in Italy:

Controversy has come regarding Milan’s decision to offer parents of teenagers free kits to test their children for drugs. Some 35,000 families with children aged 13-16 are set to receive by post coupons allowing them to collect the kits from hundreds of local pharmacies, the city’s centre-right administration announced on its website last week.

Given the tests require a urine sample there’ll have to be some dialogue between parents and young people about whether or not they want to go down this route, and whether it’s a one off test or something they’re going to do on a regular basis.

Filed under: International, random drug testing, ,

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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July 2021