Drug-related incidents in Schools


Drug-related incidents in Schools

Schools face complex challenges with drug-related incidents and play a vital role in preventing drug misuse. They must prioritise safety, provide appropriate medical care, and involve parents or police as needed. Schools should:

  • conduct thorough investigations
  • respond proportionately based on findings
  • record all decisions, actions, and outcomes in a secure Child Protection Record

By following these guidelines, schools can improve their safeguarding practices and prevent incidents like that of Child Q from happening again.

Child Q case

The purpose of child safeguarding practice reviews is to consider improvements that should be made to better safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and all schools can and should learn from the experience of Child Q and improve their processes to prevent anything like this from happening again. 

In March 2022, a child safeguarding review examined the case of 'Child Q,' a black female secondary student who was strip-searched by female police officers at her school. Staff believed she smelled of cannabis and suspected she had drugs. The search exposed her intimate body parts and humiliated her, especially since she was menstruating. School staff stayed outside the room, parents were not contacted, no appropriate adult was present, and the child was asked to return directly to an exam afterward.

Key findings 

  • the child's best interests were not upheld by those responsible for protecting her.
  • the strip search did not prioritise the child's safeguarding needs.
  • the child's race influenced the decisions made, highlighting adultification bias, where adults perceive black children as older than they are.
  • the child's voice was powerful in the review. Child Q stated: "I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again. Things need to change with all organisations involved."

In order to respond, schools could take these 5 steps:

1. Review searching, screening, and confiscation procedures

Schools must ensure their policies reflect a "safeguarding first" approach, protecting children from harm during searches. Updated guidance from the Department of Education, effective from September 2022, emphasises considering pupils' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Headteachers and authorised staff can search pupils if they suspect prohibited items, including knives, drugs, and stolen items. Schools should communicate these policies clearly to all members of the school community.

2. Address 'smelling of drugs' as a safeguarding issue

Suspecting a child of carrying drugs is primarily a safeguarding issue. Schools must assess contextual risks and provide appropriate responses rather than taking punitive action alone.

3. Train staff on children's rights

Designated safeguarding leads and school leaders should ensure staff are trained in multi-agency working and understand local protocols. Schools must not defer to police authority uncritically but should challenge appropriately.

4. Update anti-discriminatory training

All staff should be trained in anti-discriminatory practices, including understanding adultification bias. Schools should use resources like the Children's Society Appropriate Language Guide to avoid victim-blaming.

5. Include the child's voice and experience in policies

Schools must consider the child's voice in all decisions affecting them. This aligns with Article 3 of the UNCRC and statutory guidance, ensuring the child's best interests are prioritised.

External speakers

External speakers can enhance drug and alcohol education but should complement a comprehensive program. Schools should ensure external contributions align with their education policies, assess impact, and ensure safe practices.

Read more about hosting external speakers and visitors in Schools.

Last updated 01 July 2024