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Rise in pupil suspensions for booze issues at school


08/05/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

More children than ever before are being suspended for coming to class drunk or bringing booze to schools, new figures reveal.

Instances of alcohol abuse among pupils have doubled in the last five years.

Last year the number of children punished reached triple figures for the first time since such records were collated.

But while the statistics show that more pupils are now either drinking in school or turning up intoxicated, none are being expelled.

No instances of alcohol abuse have warranted expulsion in the last two academic years, although there were five pupils excluded for drug use in 2006/07.

According to the Department of Education, alcohol misuse is still the least common reason for suspending a child - accounting for just over one per cent of the total of 8,463 last year.

However, the figure has risen steadily in each of the last four years - from 51 in 2003/04 to 70, then 86 and 102 last year.

Boys have overtaken girls as the group most likely to be disciplined for alcohol abuse, although there is little difference between the numbers of each gender punished.

The publication of the figures coincides with the launch of a new task force to tackle binge drinking by young people in the north.

The problem of under-age drinking has been well-documented. An Irish News survey last year found that almost two-thirds of 12 and 13-year-olds were already drinking alcohol.

Government research has found that many children's experiences with alcohol begin in primary school.

A survey conducted for the Department of Health revealed that almost 40 per cent of P5 to P7 pupils had already tried alcohol.

Boys were more likely than girls to have tried alcoholic drinks, with some claiming they were drinking about once a week.

Health minister Michael McGimpsey has now said he plans to take forward an "action plan" to address young people's drinking.

"This is not an area which my department can effectively tackle by itself," Mr McGimpsey said.

"We need an integrated, coordinated and holistic approach, working with colleagues across government in Northern Ireland and across the UK, but also with colleagues and interested parties in other sectors, particularly and vitally at local level.

"As we develop this action plan, therefore, my department and I will meet with a wide range of key stakeholders to ensure everyone is playing their part."

While instances of alcohol abuse rose between 2006 and 2007, suspensions for substance abuse fell significantly.

In 2006/07 there were 121 suspensions across the north for drug misuse compared to 212 in the previous 12 months. Expulsions for the same offence also fell.



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