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Schools attacked for putting PR before students

Some high-profile independent Catholic schools have been attacked for their "zero tolerance" approach to drugs, with a new Jesuit Social Services report claiming they are more concerned with their public reputations than student welfare.

The Age says the report also raises alarm about binge drinking among students. It points to greater academic and social pressure on young people as a possible reason for alcohol use at an increasingly younger age.

The findings are the result of a national study of Catholic secondary schools and drug use by Fr Peter Norden, policy director of Jesuit Social Services and former chaplain at Pentridge Prison.

The Keeping them Connected report finds that no school condones illicit drug use. It concludes that many schools tried to help students involved in drug incidents - a shift in much of the Catholic sector towards pastoral care.

But it singled out Catholic independent schools with a "tough on drugs" policy as being "more concerned with the maintenance of the high profile of the school's image and reputation" than a fair approach to students.

It found the approach camouflages drug use, rather than diminishes it. The problem is shifted to another school when students transfer, or it is pushed underground.

The report also criticised drug testing, used in a small number of Catholic secondary schools and some private schools in Victoria and NSW.

It concludes that drug testing in Catholic secondary schools "has not been seen to be effective for students, but an effective marketing instrument for some schools". Fr Norden declined to name the schools.

He linked the tough-on-drugs approach to the schools' need to compete against other private schools.

The report draws on previous research on the incidence of drug use, including a Victorian and national survey. Both found one in three secondary students reported using an illicit substance in the previous year, most commonly cannabis.

Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson said yesterday he would not support the introduction of mandatory drug test in government schools. "It needs to be a choice that's made by the school, the teachers, the parents and, indeed, the students themselves," he said.

Schools attacked for putting PR before students (The Age 14/2/05)

Jesuit Social Services | New report on Catholic schools and student illicit drug use (Jesuit Social Services 14/2/05) | Synopsis of Study | Order Form | Introducing Two Recent Studies (Jesuit Social Services 14/2/05)

School drug tests a failure: Catholic report (Sydney Morning Herald 14/2/05)
Study slams school drug tests (AAP/ 14/2/05)

14 Feb 2005