London: A headmistress has defended her decision to allow pupils as young as 14 to have official smoking breaks.

Claire George said on Thursday that youngsters have to hand in their cigarettes at the start of the day at Honeyhill pupil referral unit in UK city Peterborough and are only allowed them back for the breaks.

But Stewart Jackson, an MP for the Conservative Party, has called for the local council to review the practice. He said: “They are not adults able to make reasonable choices. They are children who should follow the rules.”

One relative of a child at the unit said: “I am outraged that this is allowed. I thought the school had parental duties when our children are under their care.”

Honeyhill caters for 200 pupils who have difficulties in mainstream schools. George said they “are among the most challenging young people in the city and most have complex issues.”

“Our approach has got to be different to give them the best possible chance of getting an education which allows them to progress into employment or further education or training.

Supervised breaks

“Our approach is that pupils who already smoke on admission can, with parental consent, have up to two ten-minute, off-site, supervised smoking breaks a day.

“We have found it far more effective than simply banning smoking, which our experience shows us leads to pupils not attending school or absconding during the day to smoke.”