School drug incidents up by a quarter since 2016

There has been a significant rise in drug incidents in schools in the past few years, with children as young as nine involved, according to data obtained from police forces across the country.  

The figures came from 23 police forces who responded to a freedom of information (FOI) request from the Press Association (PA) news agency. They asked every police force in England and Wales to provide the number of reports of illegal substances being seized or confiscated from school premises in their area, and to also provide details where possible. According to the responses there were 589 incidents reported to police in 2016, rising to 751 in 2019 – an increase of 27.5 per cent. In total there were at least 2,643 incidents involving drugs in schools reported to police in England and Wales between January 2016 and December 2019. However, the actual figure is likely to be higher as several police forces did not respond to the FOI request. Of the 23 forces which did respond, 21 gave details of the types of drugs involved, 12 gave details of the type of offence investigated, and 11 gave information about the specific ages of individuals involved.

1889 of the incidents recorded involved cannabis. Other drugs seized on school premises included MDMA (64 incidents) and cocaine (58 incidents). Most incidents (1779) were related to possession of drugs, but there were also 108 supply-related incidents, with 62 listed as ‘other’, including drug-trafficking. Those in this last category are considered an indicator of likely ‘county lines’ activity. According to the data provided, 15 and 14 years olds were the most likely to be involved in drugs-related offences on school property, being involved in 262 incidents and 229 incidents respectively. The youngest child recorded was a nine year old who was caught in possession of cannabis by Gwent Police in 2017.

Commenting on the figures Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘Most young people do not take drugs, and it is rare for them to be brought on to school premises. However, like much else, trends reflect what is happening more widely, and schools are particularly concerned about the sinister spread of the drugs trade by so-called ‘county lines’ gangs, in which vulnerable young people are coerced into dealing. Schools are assiduous in educating pupils about the risks of taking drugs, and the dangers of involvement in the drugs trade, but this is part of a wider and complex problem, which requires a fully coordinated and resourced response from national government working with multiple agencies.’

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: ‘We know that whilst this doesn’t paint a picture of a constant stream of drug deals taking place in the classroom, the numbers are still worrying and prove how naive it would be to think drugs, associated with so many adult problems, aren’t present in some of our schools and amongst some school age children.’

Deputy chief constable Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for children and young people said: ‘There is evidence showing that more children and young people are believed to be using drugs. It is essential for schools and colleges to work in partnership with local officers alongside youth and family support services for support and advice and where required, operational intervention, if a pupil or student is found to have brought drugs into school or college.’ She added: ‘School and college staff are best placed to decide on the most appropriate response to tackling drugs within their schools and colleges and can have a key role in identifying students at risk of drug misuse.’

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