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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 10:26 GMT


Drug use 'rife at independent schools'

Drug use on school premises is more likely at boarding schools

The use of illegal drugs is widespread among sixth-formers in more than half of Britain's top public schools, a survey claims.

BBC Correspondent Valerie Jones: Many believe that zero tolerance doesn't work
About half of the leading independent schools surveyed believed that more than a quarter of their sixth formers used illegal drugs at least occasionally.

But despite the headline-grabbing concerns over drug use, the survey says that schools find family break-up to be a greater problem than narcotics.

[ image: A large majority of lower sixth formers had drunk alcohol in the week of the survey]
A large majority of lower sixth formers had drunk alcohol in the week of the survey
The survey of 173 schools and 2,400 pupils also found widespread use of alcohol, with 80% of lower sixth formers having drunk alcohol in the week prior to the survey.

Published by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, representing leading public schools, the survey says cannabis and ecstasy are the most commonly used illegal drugs, with most use happening at weekends.

Drug use on school premises is most likely at boarding schools, prompting three quarters of them to employ drugs-testing, compared to less than a quarter of day schools.

In responding to the problem, the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference has issued new advice urging schools not to rely simply on a policy of "zero toleration" and automatic expulsion for pupils caught using drugs.

[ image: Schools find divorce and family break-ups are more of a problem than drug abuse]
Schools find divorce and family break-ups are more of a problem than drug abuse
Instead they urge schools to augment existing policies with pastoral care, counselling and a programme of education which avoids preaching.

They say drug misuse is no longer limited to a rebellious few. Many pupils are willing to take the risks even when they recognise the dangers.

The survey highlights the differing approaches among public schools to drug users. Less than half of boarding schools and only 21% of day schools automatically expel pupils caught with drugs.

Schools are less tolerant of pupils supplying drugs, with 80% of boarding schools expelling suppliers, compared to 69% for day schools.

Despite the fears raised by such widespread use of illegal drugs, the survey also suggests that while many young people have the opportunity to use drugs, the majority still choose to refuse.

Among lower sixth formers, 12.5% of pupils were identified as regular users of drugs, although 60% of pupils had been offered drugs and 43% had experimented with them.

This decision not to use drugs is not out of fear, as 60% of pupils surveyed believed that cannabis was safe.

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