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Pupil, 9, found with cannabis in his pencil case

Kathryn Torney, The Belfast Telegraph, 26th May 2006

There were warnings last night over the availability of drugs in our schools after it emerged that a nine-year-old boy was found with cannabis in his pencil case.

There were 71 drug related offences and 335 violent offences in Ulster's schools and colleges in 2005, police figures show.

NIO Minister Paul Goggins released the figures in response to a parliamentary question by the DUP's Gregory Campbell.

"The number of occasions when police have been called specifically by schools to deal with a drug-related or violent incident is not known," said Mr Goggins.

"However, according to PSNI records there were 71 drug related offences and 335 violent offences which occurred within the confines of an educational establishment during 2005."

Anne Bill, from the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse in Belfast, said that schools needed support mechanisms in place so that they can deal with drug incidents when they arise.

FASA provides services for those directly or indirectly affected by drugs, alcohol and other substances.

Ms Bill said that preventative programmes are needed in both primary and secondary schools - the youngest child FASA has helped was a nine-year-old boy who was found to have cannabis in his pencil case.

In another case, a 11-year-old girl was found to have taken tablets and a bottle of vodka over a weekend.

"Our argument would be that schools need to connect with agencies like ours to provide help for young people rather than let them become criminalised," she said. "If they work through one of our programmes it could mean that they will avoid a criminal record.

"Quite often what happens in schools is just replicating what is happening in society.

"They are not bad kids they just need to be worked with and not stigmatised. Rather than excluding them, the children should be supported," she said.

Arthur McGarrigle, Northern Ireland president of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "From what teachers tell me and from what I read in the papers, Northern Ireland has a drugs culture. If it is out in society, then it is also in schools. It is one of the evils of 21st century life that we have to live with.

"We can only hope that the full force of the law is brought to bear on any schoolchildren found to have drugs in school."

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