Dorset head teachers are being asked to rethink policies of permanent exclusion for pupils found carrying drugs in the school playground.

It is claimed that some caught in possession are being forced to sell drugs to other pupils.

A county council committee heard this week that one school had recently permanently excluded five pupils for drug possession in one day.

Councillors were told that although permanent exclusion might appear to be a tough, no-nonsense policy, not all pupils were carrying drugs voluntarily and to ban them from school could ruin their life chances.

It was suggested that pupils be given the choice of exclusion, or taking part in a drugs education programme.

The county’s safeguarding committee heard that drugs in schools are becoming more common and involving younger pupils – reflecting the lifestyle they lead in their communities.

Officers who deal with pupils educated outside of school said they frequently had to try and persuade heads to take a more positive approach to the problem – and in the case of the school which permanently excluded five pupils managed to get three back to classes.

David Webb from the Youth Justice team told the committee that his team increasingly worked with young people who were being ‘coerced or cajoled’ into criminal activity.

“We know some children who are being threatened to bring drugs into schools,” he said.

Sylvie Lord, who works with children excluded from Dorset schools, said that even where schools do have a drug exclusion policy each case should be considered on the facts, including looking at the background of the pupil.

“If you have a child who has an exemplary record and is excluded that could wreck their life…children should be allowed one mistake,” she said.

She told the committee that it was now ‘the way of the world’ for many young people to smoke cannabis.

“We have to be aware of the pressures on children and what’s going on for them out there.

“We have to be practical…

“We want schools to be as inclusive as they can be and be mindful of the long term implications of some decisions…it could be a choice between exclusion or going on a drug programme.

“We want to direct these children who are about to go off the rails into something better.”

The committee asked for a detailed report to its next meeting on school exclusions over drug and other issues after being told that figures were not currently available.