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Dealing with drugs in the schoolyard

  1. Lunar Loops
    Here we go, a few people talk sense and the media scaremongering backlash begins. Oh joy. This from The Telegraph (UK):
    Dealing with drugs in the schoolyard

    Has the pill-pusher replaced the tuck shop? Christopher Middleton finds out

    Once upon a time, children at private school used to blow all their pocket money at the tuck shop. These days, though, spare parental cash can end up being spent on cannabis rather than Curly Wurlys.
    These dangers have been highlighted in a recently published book, Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid? (Piatkus, £14.99). In it, mother and teacher Elizabeth Burton-Phillips tells how her twin sons started taking soft drugs while at an independent school, then progressed to ecstasy, crack cocaine and heroine, until one of her boys, Nick, hanged himself at the age of 27.
    The story has sent shivers through the private sector. But what should parents do when their children let on that fellow pupils at school take drugs? The first step, it seems, is to get to know the enemy.
    "The drugs scene is completely different to what it was 20 or 30 years ago," says Dr Pat Spungin of the parental website www.raisingkids.co.uk. "If parents are going to have any credibility, they need to acquaint themselves with what's out there."
    Fortunately, this doesn't involve trawling dance clubs. Instead, the information can be found on the Drugscope website (www.drugscope.org.uk).
    Here you can learn that 2CB (also known as Nexus and Spectrum) is a new, hallucinogenic variation on ecstasy and that Poppers (alias Rush and Locker Room) are liquid nitrites that you breathe in for a quick high and, although not actually illegal, can make you nauseous.
    So is now the time to panic? No, says Pat Langham, headteacher of Wakefield Girls High School and president of the 200-strong, independent-sector Girls' Schools Association. "You should be encouraged by the fact your child has chosen to open up to you," she says. "You will discourage them from ever confiding in you again if you immediately start delivering lectures, demanding names and threatening to tell the school."
    Certainly, barging into the head's office and denouncing the guilty pupils may not be the best course of action. Apart from the fact that your children may have got it wrong, there are issues of self-preservation involved. Not yours, but theirs.
    "You've got to think of the consequences for your children," says an adviser at Talk To Frank, the independent drugs advice line. "If people find out it was your kids who talked, it could be dangerous for them."
    Good point. Especially if the school operates a zero-tolerance drugs policy, along the lines of one-puff-and-you're-expelled.
    "If there's no chink of light, no second chance, it makes it more likely that people won't come forward with information and that the problem will remain in the shadows," says Mark Pyper, head of Gordonstoun.
    He scrapped the school's zero-tolerance policy on his arrival, 17 years ago, and feels that his aim to minimise drug abuse, and move towards eradicating it, has been more effectively achieved as a result.
    One alternative, if you don't want to disclose specific details to the school, is to cloak your allegations in a degree of fogginess. At Gordonstoun, the head boy and head girl are asked to "steer" staff in the general direction of miscreants (eg: "There's a problem in Year 10 Boys"). Alternatively, parents can get their offspring to ring Childline, which will inform the school but never breathe your name.
    Before passing on any kind of tip-off, though, it's essential to look at the school's stated drugs policy to see what fate awaits the children you're pointing the finger at. Dr Martin Stephen, High Master of St Paul's School in London, thinks parents are more likely to divulge a drugs problem if they feel it will lead not to blind retribution but to rehabilitation.
    At St Paul's, as at Gordonstoun, erring pupils are allowed to stay on at the school on three conditions: that they haven't been taking hard drugs; that they haven't brought those drugs on to school premises; and that they agree to a one-last–chance programme of random drug-testing.
    "I loathe cannabis and believe it to be a lethal drug," says Dr Stephen. "That said, to operate a one-strike-and-you're-out policy is to deny the nature of childhood. You also tend to find that parents are 100 per cent in favour of a zero-tolerance policy until it's their child who's caught.
    "As for children in the private sector being more vulnerable to drugs, I don't agree. I feel immense sorrow for Elizabeth Burton-Phillips and for her loss but, in my experience, drugs are just as prevalent in the State sector as in independent schools. None of us should be complacent."

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