Cracking cocaine

Most of the pupils at Girvan academy are smartly dressed in school uniform, shirts and ties, and it seems an unlikely place to find juvenile cocaine experts.

But this school in Ayrshire has piloted an anti-drugs programme on cocaine that is to be rolled out across Scotland. Pupils have worked with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and Learning Teaching Scotland (LTS), the government-funded body that develops the curriculum, to come up with a programme that focuses not on the health risks of cocaine use but on its environmental and social damage.

Only a tiny proportion of Britain’s schoolchildren try cocaine. Andrew Brown, of England’s Drug Education Forum, feels such an extensive programme may not be the best use of resources. “Tobacco and cannabis are much more widely used. Drug educators should be guided by the needs of the group they are working with.”

But Stephen Scholes, 16, a key architect of the programme, is convinced of its usefulness. “I have learned a lot about the cocaine trade. What would put me off taking it is knowing that poor farmers are harassed into producing this stuff for fear of death. Then there is the damage to the rainforest and wildlife.”

Scholes, who helped to make an award-winning DVD about the drug, also says the skills he has learned in analysing the effects of cocaine could be applied to other drugs and other issues.

Girvan academy’s unique approach was inspired by a visit by Colombian politicians to the school under the auspices of a project called Shared Responsibility.

For one month, second-year students studied Colombia and the cocaine trade in almost every subject. The project leader, teacher Gareth Rae, says: “In geography they studied the rainforest and the environmental damage the cocaine trade causes. In RME [religious and moral education] they looked at how street children are sucked into the trade. In history they studied the effect on indigenous people, the Chibchas.” The pupils are also buddied with teenagers in Bogot√°. They have learned that there is more to Colombia than drugs. One said: “They don’t live in trees and sell drugs any more than we run around in kilts chasing haggis.”

The project is now being formally packaged for other schools by Learning and Teaching Scotland, and will be pushed by the crime-fighting agency, which has a responsibility for co-ordinating drug education in schools.

Gemma Dodds, 13, says: “It was different, learning about the same thing in every subject. I really enjoyed it.”