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Tuesday, 25 May, 1999, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Drugs in Eton's sixth form
eton
Eton has expelled seven boys for drug taking in the past four years
May '99: The use of drugs in the sixth form of one of the UK's top independent schools, Eton, was commonplace according to someone who was there until a few years ago.

The main drug involved was cannabis, with "a smattering" of LSD, 'speed' - amphetamines, and 'magic mushrooms' - hallucinogenic fungi, he said.

"There were a number of suppliers within the school that had access to them week in and week out, from London sources or locally even," said the man, speaking anonymously to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. "Availability was quite widespread."

He said the use was "fairly prevalent" in the upper sixth - though not at all in lower years.

Part of the problem in Eton's case, the old boy said, was affluence - young men with money and not much to spend it on because most things were catered for.

'Lack of awareness'

Asked about the school's efforts to stop this, he said there was "a huge lack of awareness, almost a naivety, on the establishment's part".

"I don't think they really did at all have any clear perspective on the scale of things and I'm not sure if they do now."

This is a common perception among teenagers. A survey of 3,500 English secondary school pupils, carried out for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, found that just over a third believed their teachers did not know the full extent of teenage drink and drug use.

Eton's headmaster, John Lewis, pointed to research which suggested that drug use among school-age children was quite widespread.

In another recent survey of leading independent schools, more than a quarter said they believed their sixth formers used illegal drugs at least occasionally.

Pupils tested - headmaster

And the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse says use of illegal drugs has increased eightfold among 15-year-olds in the last 10 years - and fivefold among 12-year-olds.

"Against that background and given the ready availability of substances, it would be foolish of anybody in my position to assume that a large population of 1,290 boys somehow miraculously constituted a drug-free zone," Mr Lewis said.

"At any time there are likely to be some boys who are determined to beat the rules of the school and the law of the land and there is a reasonable chance that they may get away with it," he said.

Eton, in common with other schools, did educate its pupils about the dangers of using drugs, he said.

It did not go in for random testing. Boys were subjected to urine tests only when there was reasonable cause to suspect they had been using drugs - and usually they proved to be in the clear, he said.

See also:

29 Jan 99 | Education
Warning over drugs expulsions
01 Mar 99 | Education
Drug education project under fire
19 Apr 99 | Education
School fights drugs with sniffer dog
26 Apr 99 | unions99
Schools 'over-reacting to drugs'
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