Pubdate: Sun, 05 Mar 2006
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2006
Author: Julie Henry, Education Correspondent


The government's drugs policy is undermining head teachers' attempts
to banish cannabis from the classroom, according to the chairman of a
leading independent schools' association.

The decision to downgrade cannabis from a class B to a class C drug,
and the refusal to reverse the policy despite growing concerns have
made it "a great deal harder" to convince teenagers of the dangers of
drugs, said David Chapman, the head teacher of Hampshire Collegiate
School in Romney.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph on the eve of the annual
conference of the Society of Headmistresses and Headmasters of
Independent Schools, he said the confused message coming from the Home
Office was sabotaging the battle against cannabis.

"The Government's dithering confirms in the minds of our young people
that adults don't know what they are taking about when it comes to
drugs," he said. "Young people are under considerable peer pressure,
far more so than 20 or 30 years ago. They see cannabis as cheaper than
beer, easily available and not dangerous - as they will know people
who use it who seem fine."

Incidents involving drugs are now so commonplace that some schools
have dropped hardline approaches. Eton, for example, no longer
automatically expels pupils found taking drugs. According to the Good
Schools Guide, fewer than one in 30 independent schools operate a
one-strike-and-you're-out policy. At the same time, efforts to uncover
drug taking have been stepped-up, with some schools resorting to
random searches, drug testing and dogs.

According to Mr Chapman, schools need to be vigilant and to continue
to stand firm. "Schools should not be afraid to say, 'you have strayed
beyond our parameters so you have to go'.

"If the Government is not prepared to be resolute, I don't know what
it expects head teachers to do. We need to say that we believe drug
taking to be wrong, even if that is an unfashionable position." 
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