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Harrogate head supports calls to reduce drug-related exclusions

Harrogate head supports calls to reduce drug-related exclusions

Published at 7:28am 30th April 2019. (Updated at 5:28pm 30th April 2019)

A Harrogate headteacher is supporting calls for a review of how schools in England deal with pupils abusing drugs.  

  • A report, released today, claims a record numbers of students are being kicked out of mainstream school, instead of getting help 
  • The study found there were 7,720 children excluded from English mainstream schools in 2016 to 2017
  • This works out as 40 exclusions a day and is a 15% rise on the previous year
  • John Warren, headteacher from The Grove Academy, is backing calls from think tank Voltface and drug charity Mentor to review the system 

John Warren, headteacher at Harrogate's The Grove Academy, is backing calls to rethink how schools deal with pupils caught taking or selling drugs. 

Think tank Volteface and drugs charity Mentor have this morning released a report, which claims more children than ever before are being kicked out of mainstream schools for drug-related issues. 

They want more to be done to avoid drug-related exclusions. 

The report found: 

  • A 50% increase in 11-to-15-year-olds using illegal drugs between 2014 to 2016
  • A 57% rise in the number of drug and alcohol-related exclusions in secondary schools in the past five years

7,720 were children excluded from English mainstream schools in 2016 to 2017. 

This works out as 40 exclusions a day and is a 15% rise on the previous year. 

The report is calling on the Government to do more to protect children and young people from harm related to the use and supply of drugs. 

It claims increasing focus on performance targets and cuts to school staff, pastoral services and external support services has left mainstreams schools ill-prepared to support young people around drugs. 

It's urging mainstream schools to follow the example of Pupil Referral Units, which take on excluded students, claiming:

"PRUs have a more pragmatic approach towards drugs and are more likely to try and keep the young person in the PRU, rather than exclude them." 

John Warren, headteacher Harrogate's Pupil Referral Unit, The Grove Academy, says he agrees with the report's findings that more could be done to avoid drug-related exclusions. 

He said:

"I'd say that at least two thirds of our young people are actively using drugs or have experience of drugs.

"So it's something we have daily conversations about and put support in. 

"Drugs are endemic in young people's lives now.

"Even young people who don't use drugs will know they're freely available and where to get them. 

"So yes, we do see perhaps the darker end of it, but i think it's in mainstream schools as well."

John says he agrees with the report's findings that more could be done to avoid drug-related exclusions.

It comes as The Grove Academy, along with other Pupil Referral Units in North Yorkshire, face closure due to county council cuts.

Liz McCulloch, Director of Policy at Volteface, said:

"With children facing new and emerging challenges around drugs, including worrying rises in use and their involvement in the supply of illicit substances, there is an urgent need for the Government to adopt approaches to drug-related harm that are consistent, evidence-based and which promote the best interests of young people.

"Government plans to introduce mandatory drugs education in schools is a big step forward, but only a pragmatic approach, rooted in the realities of young people’s interaction with drugs today, will turn it into the watershed moment it should be."

However, some headteachers in mainstream education warn that not excluding children for involvement in drugs would send the wrong message

Reacting to today's report, former mainstream school headteacher Mark Lehain said: 

"What I used to ask myself in the cases where I considered expulsion is that if I don't expel a child for this, what would I expel them for?

"You never know how many other children you've saved or prevented from bringing drugs or weapons or other banned things into school by making an example of another child who has done that."

In light of the report and its findings, Stray FM contact North Yorkshire County Council for a statement.

Stuart Carlton, Director of Children and Young People’s Services, said:

“North Yorkshire is ambitious for its children and young people and we are recognised nationally for innovation in improving services.  We have an outstanding record on safeguarding, we are a partner in practice for Government and we are funded to support other local authorities to improve their services to protect children at risk.

“At the same time, through our new strategic plan for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, we are driving forward a more inclusive mainstream culture in schools in a bid to reduce exclusions significantly.  Evidence shows permanent exclusion can be the beginning of a downward spiral for many young people, who suffer in terms of educational outcomes and life chances.

“We are working with schools and our pupil referral service to revise the model of alternative provision across the county for pupils at risk of school exclusion as part of a plan which creates enough places to meet needs and more localised provision. We believe young people should remain in their local schools with the right help and curriculum, no matter what their circumstances. That includes those affected by the use and supply of drugs. Evidence also shows remaining in schools is a protective factor in substance misuse.

“We provide support to schools to enable them to deliver effective drugs education through training and signposting to educational resources,

“Protecting children and young people from harm related to the use and supply of drugs is part of our safeguarding duties. We are part of the multi-agency North Yorkshire Safeguarding Board, involving police, health organisations and other agencies which oversee the protection of children in the county. We are one of 11 authorities nationally to win funding from the Home Office to address the matter of county lines.”