Monday, 20 December 2010

Drug Testing in Schools

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.



JuliaM said...

"The military undertake random testing and it works. "

The military have a reason for this policy. Schools do not.

subrosa said...

I disagree Julia. This headmaster has a reason and I know of other schools where the taking/possession of drugs has caused problems within it.

It's time we tried some other way to get the message through. The current method has failed hundreds of thousands.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

The point is, he's running a private business. His gaff, his rules.

If the parents don't like it, they know what they can do. Other private schools will take up the slack (ahoy, Fettes, are you planning an expansion at all?)

This is competition, this is how things should work.

Jo G said...

So the children's commissioner thinks children have rights to privacy and to introduce drugs tests would interfere with their dignity? Good grief what planet is he on? We are protecting other kids by seeking to remove those who are linked with drugs from their environment. And in case he doesn't know it having drugs is a criminal offence, even for children! I really do despair of people in positions of influence who take such a stupid line when responsibile headmasters like the one featured here have nothing but the safety and welfare of all children at heart.

subrosa said...

According to the article the parents are all for this WY. I would be too. It has to be attempted because something must be done to help youngster attracted to drugs.

If they want to take drugs that's nothing to do with me, but they have to learn responsible use of them.

Then of course there's the supply debate which was on Radio Scotland this morning, but that's another issue entirely.

subrosa said...

Couldn't agree more Jo and I would say it's no wonder our children have problems when there's a bloke like Baillie fighting (?) their corner.

Why do so many left wing ideologists have such little common sense?

Smoking Hot said...

'Think of the cheeldreen' is the cry as they drug test the 8 - 18 yr olds. Test for cannabis or all drugs? Ecstacy? LSD? Cocaine? Amphetamines? Heroin? .....

Drug test the teaching staff too? Perhaps tests for alcohol could be included? Smoking?

Just test the boarders or the day pupils too?

Remains of a joint found in the dorms or toilets? Whose is it? Do you test all the pupils? Wait! DNA! lets have a database with all the pupils DNA on it!

Why stop at drugs? What about the pupils iphone and personal laptops internet content?

What about conduct? l'm sure 24/7 CCTV everywhere would take care of that.

Sounds like Utopia!

subrosa said...

This is a private boarding school SH. No day pupils as far as I know.

Yes I'm sure the teachers will also be randomly tested. The headmaster sounds a fair bloke.

Don't need a database with all the pupils details on it. The government already has one.

Some (maybe all I don't know) boarding schools do limit computer access for pupils and also limit the use of mobiles.

SH, these schools survive because parents want this type of environment for their children. Many sacrifice much for the rest of their lives in order to educate their children privately. If parents didn't approve they would remove their children immediately and send them to another school.

Conduct is supervised by staff in all schools.

24/7 CCTV? Can't be any worse than some schools asking for children's fingerprints in order to book their school dinners.

As for the age this policy would cover I don't know what it is but I would hope it didn't affect the junior school (8-13s). Just knowing random testing is done in senior school would be enough for any young lad not to chance it.

JRB said...

It is often said that whatever happens in the USA, we here, will experience some time later.

I would draw your attention to a recent American report on drugs and education.

The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) based at Columbia University in its 15th annual survey of drugs in schools claims that now some 66 percent of public school pupils aged between 12 and 17, attend schools that are both gang and drug-infected.
The point has now been reached where many inner city schools now employ full-time armed security staff.

J Califano, Chairman of CASA, and former U.S. Secretary of State for Health, Education, and Welfare, has stated that -
The combination of gangs and drugs in a school is a malignant cancer that must be eliminated if we are to be able to improve public education in our nation

Interestingly, and perhaps more pertinent to this topic, the CASA survey also found that the gap that now exists, on all measurable standards, between drug infected schools and those drug-free public, private and religious schools has increased dramatically over the past decade.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse =
CASA Report for 2009 =

Edward Spalton said...

We eventually pulled our children out of the state system, as political correctness and under achievement was becoming noticeable. (Business was good that year!). If we had only moved house to the catchment area of better state schools, we would have been much better off today and not the butt of snide remarks about "buying privilege".

Actually the private schools did much the same job that the state schools did in my day. In spite of much smaller classes, I don't think that the standard of pastoral care was very much better than I had. The children were randomly tested for smoking, however.

Our daughter was amongst the first group of girls to enter our son's public school at age 13. (There had been a girls' sixth form for some time).

The classics master, a delightful man, would reward a boy for a good piece of work in class with a manly embrace in the Roman fashion. He saw no reason to change his methods when the girls arrived.

A highly coloured account of this procedure reached one girl's papa ( a High Court Judge, no less), who phoned up the headmaster in some dudgeon.

"Yes, we're very well aware of Mr. Wilkinson's methods and have every confidence in them. Good day!" was the whole response. This would be nearly twenty years ago.

Think of the kerfuffle there would have been in the state system! That would apply to the independent sector today, as methods and curriculum are being approximated to the state system.

I have a friend, a prep school teacher for many years, who gave up as he thought the parents were not getting independent education (at great expense) but were increasingly being fobbed off with a replica of the state system. He teaches abroad now.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Better drug tested than addicted.

No harm in this discipline at all, provided its carried out in a positive and helpful manner.

Witterings From Witney said...

Can but echo Weekend Yachtman's view, SR.

Also what Edward S said - I too went to private boarding school, which taught manners maketh man & woman. It also taught us responsibility, ie the individual is answerable for their actions and must suffer the outcome - good or bad.

Smoking Hot said...

Rosa ... it does indeed have day puipils and the age intake is 8-18 yrs old.

Replacing eucation by regulation is not the answer ... period!

subrosa said...

Edward I know other parents who did exactly what you did and don't regret it for a minute. According to one I know well, it was easy to silence the 'buying privilege' crowd. She just used to ask the age of their car(s) then mention her own. Also she was good at mentioning as a one parent family she was surprised two parents couldn't afford the fees. Left plenty soundless mouths open.

subrosa said...

Exactly RA. Well said.

subrosa said...

It usually shows when someone has gone to private school. Of course part of that is the parents influence WfW. Most tell their children they are privileged to do so and thus have a responsibility to work, not play, whilst there.

Yes it's manners which are the most obvious clue.

subrosa said...

If that is so then I apologise SH. My knowledge of MCS is rather out of date but I note they still advertise as a boarding school.

If you had any experience of private boarding schools or day schools, you would know that the regulation is possibly less than in most state schools.

Education sometimes has to have a physical outcome to make it a success.

I reiterate, these schools survive by people giving them their hard earned cash to educate their children. They're not there because a local council insists they are.

How many have closed down in Scotland now that you think the state system is so wonderful and unregulated?

subrosa said...

Many thanks for that John. It was kind of you to do the research. Much appreciated.

Jo G said...

"Replacing education by regulation is not the answer ... period!"

No one is replacing education. What is proposed here is the protection of children by ensuring there are no drugs in their environment.

Why the paranoia about "regulation" of anything amongst some people? There is nothing wrong with rules: all decent societies have them. And can we just highlight again that we're talking about drugs here and that the possession of drugs is a criminal offence?

The state sector has been torn assunder by the mad liberals who will not deal with the violent in our schools. They cannot get rid of these pupils but those pupils who want to learn and to work are at their mercy on a daily basis. It is insane!

subrosa said...

Can't disagree with a word Jo.

Edward Spalton said...

ROSIE, FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION PARENTS' CARS (at Private School). For all the time we were there my wife had a VW Beetle which did the school visits etc as often as my own (slightly) more presentable car which was still far below the usual parental standard.

Years later, she asked our two whether they minded being visited in such a manky car. "BUT MUM" they said "IT WAS A CULT CAR"!

It was bought second hand when our son was at his excellent, local authority nursery school (age 3) and he was promised that he would learn to drive
in it - which he did.
Eventually he wore it out going to his first job.

Sheila said...

Not encouraging the atmosphere I'd want for a school - but then then, as has been said, the parents can vote with their feet...

Please don't think I'm agreeing with Tam Baillie on ANY level.

subrosa said...

Lovely story Edward. Aye, the old VWs were superb. I had one for a short time in Germany. It was the cheapest car you could buy in those days over there but it never let me down.

subrosa said...

To be honest Sheila, I don't think it would affect the atmosphere much and I don't think anyone is going to be running round daily asking for urine samples either.

As a deterrent it may work and it's worth a try.

I'm so pleased to hear you're not a supporter of Baillie. Didn't think you would be somehow. ;)

Zippo said...

I'm not really sure where I stand on this one, though I do hope all the parents who want it will submit for drug testing too so they can be seen to be leading by example ... all teachers & support staff too of course ... including the headmaster.

Could the whole thing be an over reaction to a relatively small problem? In the early 70's a boy I went to (boarding) school with was expelled for cannabis possesion, so its not by any means a modern problem.

Did prohibition is the USA stop people from drinking ... nope. Will drug testing in schools stop children from taking drugs .. very unlikely. It could actually make the problem worse by making drugs more attractive as the fruit is now even more forbidden.

Can't help but feel the law of unintended consequences might well kick in. What drugs will be tested for? Children are very ingenious and will no doubt find out and subvert the process by finding & taking drugs not tested for which could well be a lot more dangerous than cannabis and bring them into contact with some seriously unsavoury characters.

Is drugs testing 100% reliable? Testing for smoking is not reliable by any means. A false positive could completely and utterly destroy a childs' entire life.

subrosa said...

I'm sure the staff and head will put themselves forward Zippo. As for the parents, as they're not attendees I wouldn't expect them to be tested. If any are in the military they would be randomly tested anyway.

Our drug problem has increased over the years and today it's much worse than the 70s - or 60s for that matter.

It may be a relatively small problem in this one school but nationally it is not. It's the youngsters who start taking it, just as in my day we dabbled with alcohol.

Alcohol is banned in schools but alcohol is usually easier to spot. Drug taking is not so easily spotted.

Zippo, the military know ALL the tricks of the trade connected with drug testing avoidance. No child, unless taught by a military individual, would know more. In fact military personnel who wish to get out of the services quickly are known to purposely take drugs.

As far as I know the tests are reliable. I don't think this head is speaking about drug testing every week or even every month. It could well be just every term and as a deterrent. It's a urine test so not invasive.

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