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Warning over 'ineffective' school drug testing

PETER WALKER: "The findings are conjecture at this stage"
PETER WALKER: "The findings are conjecture at this stage"
PAUL CARTER: "It is complex but I do believe random tests will be to the positive good of schools"
PAUL CARTER: "It is complex but I do believe random tests will be to the positive good of schools"

RANDOM drug testing in schools is ineffective in curbing drug use among pupils and could actually damage children, a report commissioned by Kent County Council has concluded.

A group of experts set up by the council to examine the pros and cons of random testing on pupils has warned it is likely to be counter-productive and there is no reliable evidence that it has any impact.

But the findings have been dismissed as misleading by the Kent headteacher at the only school in the country to have brought in random testing.

Peter Walker of Faversham’s Abbey School said the team was wrong and its conclusions were "pure conjecture" as no proper research on testing has been carried out.

The independent Kent Drugs and Alcohol Team has cast doubt on the value of testing, saying it may have "unintended adverse outcomes" and that the risks outweigh the benefits.

County councillors will be told on Monday that schools would be better off training staff to detect signs of drug use among pupils and to use police dogs and other detection equipment if they are suspicious.

The working group, including representatives from schools, the health service, Kent Police, youth experts and drugs expertser, say "there is considerable concern, based on research with young drug users in Kent, that a well-meaning but counter-productive cycle may arise with the introduction of school-based drug testing."

It warned serious users "are likely to truant from school on drug testing days" and any subsequent treatment offered "may be ineffective because it would be co-erced rather than voluntary".

In addition, it concluded that the lives of pupils who skip school because of drug tests are "likely to become chaotic and the risk of becoming problematic drug users increases significantly".

On the plus side, the team did say there may be some benefits, saying drug testing could send "a powerful message to pupils and parents" and may be a way of identifying pupils with drug-related problems.

Peter Walker, head of the Abbey School, said the team had not sought his views or visited the school before drawing up its report.

He said: "The findings are conjecture at this stage and I would welcome a rigourous independent assessment. I do know that parents are very supportive and want us to continue. We are going to keep going."

Cllr Paul Carter (Con), KCC cabinet member for education, said: "I have concerns about drug testing myself but that does not necessarily mean schools should not be doing it.

"Nobody is saying it will definitely not work. It is complex but I do believe random tests will be to the positive good of schools."

Labour education spokesman Cllr Roger Truelove said: "Drugs education is much more complex than simply having drug testing in schools. We need a full independent review before schools go down this path."

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