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Sniffer dogs at the chalkface

IT’S A sad sign of the times when Drug Sniffer Dogs are visiting at least 100 secondary schools in England and Wales to search pupils for drugs, particularly cannabis.

Although they are more used to working in pubs and clubs, the dogs are a regular feature of school life. The rapid rise in their use comes three months after the Department for Education and Skills sent guidance to head teachers saying that schools were within their rights to use Sniffer dogs but should exercise extreme caution in case it leads to "labelling" that might be damaging to pupils.

Sniffer dogs are viewed by some head teachers and governors as a softer option than random drug tests. Most searches are carried out by police, but the dogs and handlers of Grosvenor International Services operate in 14 Oxfordshire schools. Kent, Staffordshire and Buckinghamshire are three other counties where police drug dogs visit schools. The Heart of England secondary school in Solihull has used dogs twice to search the bags and coats of pupils.

Annette Croft, the head teacher, said that there had been unease among some pupils when they were lined up to be sniffed by the dogs. She told Druglink magazine that the exercise was "a very mellow, humane and civilised response to the threat of drugs".

Parents were asked to sign a letter of consent to the searches, which is usual in most schools where dogs are used. Any pupils who do not consent are searched by hand. Only four pupils were picked out, including one who provided information about cannabis smoking on the school bus.

There are concerns about allowing dogs into schools. Some teachers fear that it risks creating distrust between pupils and driving drug problems underground. Emma Balchin, a schools drug adviser in Wolverhampton, told Druglink that often the use of dogs was one way that a school could show worried parents that it was taking a hard line.