Zero tolerance conceals drug use in schools
Published by The Guardian – Monday 21 April, 2003
Copyright: The Guardian
Schools’ zero tolerance policies towards drugs may be counter-productive because they encourage children to conceal drug problems, according to Home Office research.
Experts who studied the drug habits of 300 hardcore young offenders concluded that low or zero tolerance policies “may not be helpful”.
The research was published as the drugs minister, Bob Ainsworth, unveiled a new £40m programme of drug treatment services for young offenders.
Mr Ainsworth also announced £30m for drug work in young offenders institutes’ secure units, £22m for councils to provide specialist youth workers, and £15m for schemes that use sport to steer young people away from drugs.
He said: “Vulnerable young people need prevention and treatment before the problems escalate.”
The Home Office report said that zero tolerance policies encouraged “children to conceal rather than deal with their drug use”.
It warned that those pupils excluded from school as a result of using drugs were not necessarily the only or the worst offenders.
The study’s conclusions contrast sharply with guidance from the Department for Education and Skills, which has increased headteachers’ powers to expel drug dealing pupils.
The charity DrugScope said the research showed that zero tolerance drug policies led to drug problems being ignored rather than dealt with effectively.
Helen Wilkinson, director of information and policy at the charity, said: “Research shows drug use among excluded children is much higher than for those in school.
“A range of disciplinary and supportive measures is necessary. We should be helping children with problems. Throwing them out simply exacerbates the problem.”
But general secretary of the Secondary Heads’ Association, Dr John Dunford, said: “We would reject any notion that drug people should not be excluded from school.
“I think schools can safely ignore the views of this Home Office research.
“Selling drugs is a crime outside school and it has to be dealt with severely inside school as well.”
Last May the DfES said children caught dealing drugs at schools should be expelled with no chance of a reprieve, even for a first-time offence.
A fifth of the group studied for the Home Office report had dealt drugs, shoplifted, sold stolen goods or gone joyriding at least 20 times in the previous year.
More than 85% had used cannabis, alcohol and tobacco but heroin and crack cocaine use were still comparatively low.
“There was no evidence of a progression towards heroin or crack cocaine use or dependence despite the diverse drug use amongst the group,” said the report.
The 293 young people surveyed by researchers from Essex University were all being supervised by youth offending teams – 52% were 15 or 16 years old while a handful were under 14.
The Home Office today also published reports showing 42% of young homeless people had taken heroin and 38% crack cocaine – about 20 times the average.
Young people who had been in care also reported higher than average drug use, with 10% using crack or heroin.