Merchiston Castle School is a highly respected, private boys school in Edinburgh. The fees can be more than £8,000 a year.
Andrew Hunter, the headmaster, is planning to introduce random drug testing since an incident last month when cannabis was discovered in a 15-year-old's study. The boy's parents removed him before he could be formally expelled.
Mr Hunter decided random drug testing may actually be better for the whole school community. "A drug testing policy not dissimiliar to the armed forces," he said, although he added:
“I don’t want to infringe on any human rights, hence seeking legal advice, but we are thinking of bringing in quite a right-wing policy. We need to support young people to the hilt, so at least when they are in that challenging position they think they could fail a drugs test, and lose their place in the school immediately.”
Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tam Baillie, labelled the policy as 'potentially damaging'. He further responded:
“Schools should be promoting the rights of all children and young people. This reported initiative interferes with children’s right to privacy and to have their dignity respected.
“Schools have a responsibility to raise children’s awareness of the risks of drug use in a positive learning environment, yet this approach is based on a blanket suspicion of all pupils. It has the potential to damage the trust between the school and the pupils with little or no gain. There is no robust evidence base that this action will have any positive impact.
“I would urge the school to think again about how it responds to the legitimate concerns around young people’s drug use.”
The Scottish Executive rejected calls for random drug testing in state schools in 2006.
Professor Neil McKeagney, head of the Centre for Drug Misuse at the University of Glasgow was supportive of Mr Hunter's plans, describing them as 'brave':
“It is very brave of the school to be exploring this. Random drug tests are something very few schools have been involved in.”
How can Mr Bailley call these plans 'potentially damaging' when they've never been practised in Scottish state schools or any private school? The policy of talking about drugs in schools has shown no reduction in drug taking in our younger generation.
The military undertake random testing and it works. It works because those who are tempted to take drugs know there is a possibility they will be tested and to have a positive test result brings shame, not only on the drug user, but his colleagues. There is also the safety issue where a person under the influence of drugs could cause harm to himself and others through inappropriate actions.
If we truly care for our children then surely these are the values we should be teaching them and if it involves a physical test such as this, then so be it.
Of course, the founder of the Scottish Human Rights Law Group, Aidan O'Neill, has questioned the legality of this. I wish Mr Hunter well. He runs a private school and if the parents support his plan he should be entitled to make it school policy - with the obvious legal checks completed. It may just prove to be a success and show children they can take responsibility for their actions where mind altering substance use is involved.