HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Government Backs Down On Random Drug Tests In Schools
Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2004
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2004 Telegraph Group Limited
Author: George Jones, Political Editor
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Random drug tests on school pupils will not be compulsory, Tony Blair
said yesterday.

Downing Street was forced on the defensive after teachers' leaders and
anti-drug campaigners claimed the plan was unworkable.

The Prime Minister used a weekend newspaper interview to say that head
teachers could be given the power to impose tests where they thought
drug use was a problem in their schools.

Francis Wilkinson, the former head of Gwent Police and current patron
of the drugs charity Transform, said they would have to get consent
from pupils and parents to carry out any tests.

The scheme would effectively be a test for cannabis, because more
harmful drugs are flushed out of users' systems much more quickly.

Mr Wilkinson told Radio 4's Today programme: "It is a non-starter. You
can't do it without consent, and a child can't give informed consent,
so you would get consent from parents.

"Some won't agree and, of course, even if they do, a child can
certainly refuse."

Teaching unions have advised their members to use the proposed powers
only as a last resort because of concerns that parents of pupils
subjected to such tests could sue schools for human rights abuses.

Ivan Lewis, the junior education minister, confirmed that consent
would have to be sought for any drug testing.

For under-16s, heads would have to get the consent of the parents.
Post-16, the advice was that they should consult the pupil.

Mr Lewis said he believed the majority of parents would support such
tests. There were head teachers who had, on a day-to-day basis, to
deal with drug abuse and dealing near their schools.

Pupils found to be dealing in drugs should normally be excluded from
school, but in cases where youngsters were found to have started
taking illegal substances, they should be offered support and advice
on how to stop before they developed a habit, said Mr Lewis.

Mr Blair later defended the plan, describing it as a sensible power to
give head teachers.

He said the Government had faced the same backlash when it suggested
posting police officers in some schools. Both experiments had been
tried successfully in American schools.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "He does believe he has
the support of parents in tackling the menace of drugs.

"It's important to recognise what this is: this is something we have
been working on for some time and the guidance will be out next month.

"This is about giving head teachers the option. This is a
discretionary power. We are not saying to them every child has to be
tested for drugs at the same time as you take the register."
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