Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Teachers need protection, say Tories

The Independent have an interview with Michael Gove, who speaks for the Conservative Party on children schools and family issues. According to the paper:

Mr Gove also promises action to strengthen teachers’ powers to search pupils for weapons or drugs.

“We want to remove from teachers the fear factor of ending up in court or some disciplinary procedure if they intervene,” he says.

As readers of this blog will know those powers have recently been strengthened after Sir Alan Steer looked at the issues of searches.

Anyone know what further powers Mr Gove feels are needed?

Filed under: school drug policy

The Relationship Between School Policies and Youth Tobacco Use

Mike Ashton, of Findings fame, has been kind enough to send me a paper that readers will find interesting.

The concept is that, because classroom based programmes have had limited success (so far) in reducing young people smoking, that other school based interventions need to be explored, and that school policy may be one area worth exploring.

In the UK we’ve seen that Drug use, smoking and drinking among young people in England in 2007 found that:

In general, a school’s disciplinary policy for pupils found smoking on the premises had no significant impact on the odds of a pupil being a regular smoker. The one exception was in schools where pupils were given a note on their record if found smoking; they had reduced odds of being regular smokers compared to pupils in schools with no such policy (odds ratio=0.59).

The paper that Mike sent me seems to find something similar, arguing that policy with enforcement is better than policy on its own:

Comprehensive policies that lack enforcement may be unable to reach their goal of protecting children.
Accumulating evidence points to the role that enforcement of tobacco policies plays in reducing tobacco use by youth. Consistent enforcement related to lower prevalence of daily and weekly smoking in secondary schools in Wales
and lower levels of perceived smoking among Scottish students.

They go on to say that if pupils believe that enforcement is actively being pursued that too has an impact on smoking behaviour. The authors suggest that the broken window’s theory may apply:

Youth who do not witness their peers breaking school tobacco policies may themselves be less likely to adopt that risky behavior. Perceived peer tobacco use is a commonly cited predictor of underage smoking,
and tobacco use is believed to occur more when youth feel it is common and acceptable.

Filed under: school drug policy, tobacco

Consultation on Searching Pupils


I’ve received a letter from the DCSF about proposals to change the rights of teachers to search pupils, which they proposing to take forward as part of the Children, Skills and Learners Bill.

This is in response to the proposals that Sir Alan Steer made earlier this year.

The letter says:

Firstly, governing bodies of schools, FE colleges and sixth form colleges will be required to have procedures in place for the recording of significant incidents involving use of force by staff on pupils, and for reporting of such incidents to parents.  Section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which re-enacted previous powers introduced by the Education Act 1997, empowered school staff to use reasonable force to prevent pupils causing injury, damage to property or serious disruption.  The legislation is supported by DCSF non-statutory guidance issued in November 2007 which strongly advises schools to record significant incidents involving use of force by staff and to report them to parents.  Ministers subsequently gave a commitment to making this section a statutory requirement, which this proposal puts into effect.  Equivalent legislation covering the FE sector is contained in section 165 of the Educations and Inspections Act 2006.  Subsequent guidance advises that colleges’ policies should include reporting and recording of incidents.

Secondly, the existing powers for headteachers, college principals and authorised staff to search pupils without consent for weapons, introduced as part of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (and the equivalent powers for further education, set out in section 85B of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992), will be extended to include alcohol, illegal drugs and property suspected of being stolen.  The Secretary of State decided to amend the law to accommodate this extension of powers on the advice of Sir Alan Steer, headteacher and Government school behaviour adviser, whose July 2008 report contained the recommendation.  We intend to include in this clause a number of important safeguards for learners, including restricting who can carry out such a search to the headteacher, or a staff member who is authorised to do so by the headteacher (and in colleges we expect this to mainly be security staff), and who has indicated his consent to carrying out the search.  We propose that such a search may be carried out only where a member of staff has reasonable grounds to suspect that a learner has a specific item on his person – it is not intended that the power is used to search learners on the “off-chance” that they may find something.

We are proposing that the power to search has no upper age limit in schools. FE colleges and, to a lesser extent, sixth form colleges have adult learners as well as young people.   It would be problematic for the powers to apply to a proportion of a student population only, but we do not believe it would be appropriate to give college principals the power to search adults for alcohol that they are legally able to purchase. Our recommendation is that, in colleges, the power to search for alcohol is extended only in relation to students at the college aged up to 18. If you have different views, please let us know as part of this consultation.

We do not believe that this proposed legislation will significantly alter the way schools operate.  Rather, it backs teachers’ authority to search pupils for a range of inappropriate items, and protects them from challenges to their authority either from pupils or parents.  It also sends an important message to those who are tempted to bring in inappropriate items that those items may be found as a result of a search.

The Bill will also include three further clauses related to improving behaviour and attendance issues.  Firstly, we are planning to change the name of Pupil Referral Units in legislation.  Secondly, we are giving the Secretary of State the power to direct a local authority to replace a failing Pupil Referral Unit with a specified alternative.  Finally, we are legislating to make membership of School Behaviour Partnerships to improve behaviour and tackle persistent absence a statutory requirement.  Full details of these proposals were included in our White Paper ‘Back on Track’, and through this document were subject to a full public consultation.

If you have any views you would like the Department to consider on the new areas of law they are proposing, please send them as soon as possible but at least before 10 December to Martin Childs, Improving Behaviour and Attendance Unit, Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2 Floor Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street LONDON SW1P 3BT, or e-mail to martin.childs@dcsf.gsi.gov.uk.

Filed under: school drug policy

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,

Union reaction to Steer

I’ve noticed that three of our teaching union members have made statements on Sir Alan Steer’s report.


“Voice welcomes Sir Alan’s comments that schools are often safe havens for many children and that standards of pupil behaviour and parental responsibility are generally good. It is all too easy for society and the media to demonise young people. Schools should not be portrayed as places of fear and danger. They should be places where children can feel safe.

“However, great caution must be exercised over any extension of search powers. Any new powers must be exercised carefully, only where necessary in schools that have a particular problem with drugs, alcohol or stolen property, and with the necessaary back-up from the police or specially trained security staff.

“We would not want schools to enter into police territory with general searches for stolen goods or drugs. Schools are about education. They should work in partnership with their local police force but must be very careful that they are not used to do the work of the police.

ASCL General Secretary Dr John Dunford said:

“We should not forget that the vast majority of young people are well behaved. However, drugs and alcohol are a growing concern in some areas and the extended search powers will give schools another option for dealing sharply and swiftly with poor behaviour. Schools work hard to ensure the safety of all students and staff and additional powers that help them to enforce this will be welcome.”

“Schools must have the support of parents in order to impact on behaviour. The government’s strategy will need to make clear parents’ responsibilities to work with schools to resolve issues quickly.”

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT:

“The extension of the powers to search is a welcome development.

“It will enable schools to be responsive to a wider range of problems. It will also enhance the menu of strategies to tackle pupil indiscipline from which schools can now choose to assist them in maintaining high standards of safety, good order and discipline.

“Sir Alan’s recommendations today build on proposals made previously by the NASUWT and which this Government has implemented to promote good behaviour and discipline in schools.

“Many schools may never need to use these measures. However, all schools will still need to ensure that they are prepared fully should the need arise by reviewing their behaviour policies.”

Christine Blower speeking on behalf of the NUT:

“Rarely will teachers want to search pupils physically, but if they do there should be no threat of prosecution.

“Government needs to respond pragmatically to the needs of schools which face threats from gangs, knives and drug and alcohol abuse. Schools are safe places but our research shows that the minority of schools need exceptional back-up. Schools should not face enormous security bills just because they are sited in the toughest areas”

Filed under: Drug Education Forum Members, 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,

Smoking Policy on School Trips

The Telegraph:

A school has come under attack from parents after some students were allowed to smoke with staff supervision during a trip abroad.

The incident happened while more than 200 students were on a skiing trip to Austria during the Easter holidays. A group of 16 students, aged 15 and 16, were allowed to smoke while staff watched.

Most schools have comprehensive drug policies including what to do in smoking incidents, however, it’s not clear whether those policies extend to school trips.

I’ve been in touch with the National Healthy Schools team and they tell me that while they don’t specifically cover this point they they do advocate:

that when formulating/reviewing policies schools adopt a whole school approach and that they [schools] consult widely with stakeholders, includding those with substance misuse experience.  In addition, at the point of review, using the same process they (stakeholders) can reflect as to whether the policy, as it stands, is fit for purpose or whether amendments are needed.

(I don’t think that “substance misuse experience” means drug users or ex-users, rather it’s DAATs, PCTs, Children’s Trusts, the police etc.)

The DCSF guidance to schools is very helpful on this too:

The limits of ‘school boundaries’ should be defined where they extend beyond the school premises and perimeters to include, for example, journeys in school time, work experience, and residential trips. Schools should also consider when the school day begins and ends, and when its ‘duty of care’ responsibilities apply. However, if rules relating to pupil or staff use of alcohol or tobacco change according to different school trips, this will need to be documented and clearly communicated and understood by pupils, parents/carers, staff, and other key people.

Filed under: school drug policy, tobacco,

Teachers to get search powers

The Telegraph:

Teachers should be able to search pupils for alcohol, drugs and stolen goods, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said yesterday.

At the moment staff must call in the police to carry out a search if they suspect pupils of carrying drink or drugs. Only if they believe the child is in possession of a gun or knife can they carry out a search themselves. Mr Balls said a widening of the powers given to teachers was needed to make schools safer.

The paper report that Ed Balls has written to Alan Steer who is looking at school discipline to outline this view.

If so it didn’t make the press release that the Department released welcoming Sir Alan’s review of progress since his 2005 report on Tuesday, or make his speech to the NASUWT which we covered here the other day.

The Guardian also cover the story:

Balls said: “I am asking Alan Steer to look at ways of extending teachers’ current powers to allow them to search pupils for alcohol and drugs and stolen goods.

“I think we should make sure teachers and schools and governing bodies have all the powers they need.”

Balls said that pupils would not be automatically searched but he wanted teachers to have to power “if they needed it”.

They also report that the suggestion has the support of the general secretaries of the NUT and Association of School and College Leaders (both organisations are members of the Drug Education Forum).

The Independent and Times also have coverage.

Update – The NUT’s website now has the story, and there’s reaction from the Conservatives in the shape of Michael Gove’s blog:

We have said repeatedly that headteachers should have the general power to ban any item they think is disruptive, including mobiles, and the general power to search for and confiscate any such item. The Government’s own Guidance now encourages teachers not to search pupils and instead to call the police, which inevitably undermines teachers’ ability to keep order…

Given these comments I thought it might be helpful to take a look at what the guidance says:

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Government, school drug policy,

Teachers ‘find drugs and weapons’

The BBC on research carried out for the NUT:

Overall, the share of teachers who had never found drugs or weapons on pupils has grown.But one in four said they had found an offensive weapon and one in five said they had found pupils possessing drugs.

A staggering one in 10 teachers had discovered children dealing in drugs.

Others also cover the story: Channel 4 News, The Telegraph, and The Metro.

As you would expect you can download the full report from the NUT’s website.  It says:

  • Compared to 2001, teachers reported significantly more possession of drugs by pupils.  Teachers had experienced an increase in the traffic of drugs on a monthly and weekly basis, but the overall number of reports was smaller than for possession.  (Reports of possession were up from 1 per cent of teachers in 2001 to 2.2 per cent in 2008 on a weekly basis and up from 2 per cent of teachers in 2001 to 2.7 per cent in 2008 on a monthly basis).

Later on they give more detail saying:

2 per cent of all teachers (including teachers of young children and/or in rural areas) encounter possession of drugs on a daily or weekly basis, but in schools where drugs do occur, such as urban secondary schools, 11 per cent of teachers encounter them daily or weekly.

The government’s guidance for schools on drugs issues says:

It is vital that schools send a clear message to the whole school community that the possession, use or supply of illegal and other unauthorised drugs (as designated by the headteacher) within school boundaries is unacceptable. [page 51]

Supplying an illegal drug is a serious breach of school rules and it may be one of the exceptional circumstances where the headteacher judges that it is appropriate to permanently exclude a pupil, even for a one-off or first-time offence. In making this judgement the headteacher should have regard to the school’s policy on drugs and consider the precise circumstances of each case, including the nature of the incident and the evidence available. This may also include the precise nature of the supply (see section 5.1).

Where pupils are permanently excluded for supplying an illegal drug, repeated possession and/or use of an illegal drug on school premises, the Secretary of State would not normally expect the governing body or an independent appeal panel to reinstate the pupil. [page 73]

Filed under: drug dealing, school drug policy,

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