An independent report has confirmed the introduction of drugs dogs into Buckinghamshire schools has been a hit with pupils, parents and teachers.
An independent evaluation of this work has been undertaken by the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety, and the completed report says it is a proven success.
The scheme was introduced to more than 5,500 pupils from Chesham High School, Chesham Park Community College, Dr Challoner's Grammar School, The Amersham School, The Beaconsfield School and Dr Challoner's High school. Proactive and passive dogs, (See note to editors below for definition), provided by independent company Grosvenor International Services (GIS) were brought into the grounds supported by Schools and Youth Involvement Officers.
The scheme was the brainchild of schools and youth involvement officer PC Paul Sorensen who came up with the idea in 2001.
After gaining backing for the idea from the force, PC Sorensen co-ordinated the partnership work between the schools, Buckinghamshire CC Education Services, Thames Valley Police, GIS, Buckinghamshire Youth Service, Buckinghamshire Drug Action Team and drugs support agency, Addaction, to get the pilot project off the ground and into the schools.
The full report is based on questionnaires and face-to-face interviews with pupils, parents and staff including the headteachers of the schools which took part. It highlights positive and supportive feedback for the scheme, which was launched ahead of new Department For Education and Skills (DFES) drugs guidance for schools released in 2004.
Allyson MacVean and Jennie Liebenberg, who produced the report, found that of the 260 returned questionnaires, the overwhelming response was positive, including a belief by those involved in the pilot scheme that it was a good idea for dogs to visit the school, and that they would like to see it continue.
Professor MacVean said: 'A safe, creative educational environment is a key to the future health of the community. One obstacle to this has been a threat of illegal drugs in schools and the targeting of school children by dealers who are sometimes their peers. This report shows just how much pupils, parents and staff welcome such an initiative and have confidence that this is an effective part of the overall drugs education strategy.'
The findings show that:
-98 per cent of parents, 92 per cent of staff and 82 per cent of pupils agreed it was a good idea for dogs to visit schools
-97 per cent of parents, 94 per cent of staff and 81 per cent of pupils agreed that the dogs in schools project should be continued
-94 per cent of parents, 81 per cent of staff and 82 per cent of pupils agreed there should be no prior warning to pupils about dogs visiting the school.
PC Sorensen said: 'This evaluation shows how much can be achieved by people working together in partnership, helping to keep our young people safe from the threat of illegal drugs. Young people face many difficult choices in life. This initiative has given them valuable information, support and deterrence to hopefully make the right choices about illegal drugs.'
Deputy LPA commander, Paul Church, said: 'We are very pleased with the support and positive feedback that has been received throughout this pilot scheme and evidenced in this evaluation. The project was planned ahead of the release of the DFES guidelines in February 2004, and complies with them.
'We acknowledge there may be other initiatives in use, but this project illustrates the Thames Valley Police way of dealing with the perceived problems of drugs in schools, and addressing issues and concerns of parents, pupils and staff.'
John Franklin Webb, principle director of GIS, a private Oxford-based company which provides drugs search services, said: 'We all have a duty of care and a social responsibility to ensure that the school environment is a safe and secure place for young people to take their education. It is also an offence under the Drugs Misuse Act 1971 for those involved in the management of a property to 'knowingly permit' drug misuse or turn a blind eye.
'In the case of schools this needs to be done sensitively within a framework of a structured counter drug strategy which should include ongoing support for those identified as requiring assistance.
'We at GIS are in the business of driving drugs, not people, from the school environment.'
Bill Moore, school improvement adviser for personal social and health education for Buckinghamshire CC, said: 'The real strength of this programme lies in the way people are working together to provide education around drug misuse for all pupils while working to keep our schools drug-free and providing access to support for those few youngsters who need it.
'It is very encouraging that in Buckinghamshire the headteachers, police, dog handlers and support agencies have got the balance right between education, prevention and deterrence.'
Sue Imbriano, Buckinghamshire CC strategic director for schools, said: 'Drugs are a real issue in the lives of young people across the country and, therefore, also for all schools. In developing this project, headteachers in Buckinghamshire have adopted a sensitive approach to trying to keep the pupils in their schools safe from drugs within an educational and supportive framework.'
The definition of a proactive and passive drugs dog is as follows.
The proactive dog is normally a compact breed, for example a Spaniel, which is very industrious and fit. Its small size gives it safe access to small areas. It is trained to work freely, on or off the leash as appropriate, but can also be worked on a leash if safer to do so. It performs a 'scurry search' of buildings, areas or vehicles.
The passive dog is trained to screen people that may have come in contact with an illegal substance or who may be carrying it at the time of the search. Normally retriever breeds are used, particularly Labradors, not because other breeds such as Dobermans and German Shepherds cannot be trained to do the work, but because Labradors present a more acceptable demeanor to the general public and do not normally arouse fear or distrust. In a school environment it is particularly important to use a dog that pupils perceive to be safe and trustworthy.