Students from a top Auckland college escaped suspension from school after being caught using drugs - and were issued, instead, with a one-match ban from their elite school football team.

Three students from the secondary school were caught using marijuana at a party earlier this year.

At the time, all three were part of the Year 9 football "A-team" and the school's elite sports academy - governed by a strict code of conduct.

However, when the school was alerted to the off-site activity, it was decided that rather than informing police, suspending or expelling the teenagers - from either the sports academy or the school itself - the appropriate punishment was to stop the students from playing 90 minutes of football.

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The Weekend Herald has chosen not to identify the school involved but has confirmed events with the headmaster - who initially denied the incident, but when pressed, admitted what had happened.

"My understanding was it was an experience of marijuana.

"It's not like it was a regular thing. I think it was a one-off," the headmaster said.

"There were three in the A-team, yes. The footballers weren't stood down from school, they were stood down from a football game.

"That was where we were made aware some of them had been at a party, therefore we met with the [trio's] parents. Between us and their parents we decided that it wasn't a school-related activity, but the sanction we came up with would be that they'd miss a game of football."

The principal said the teenagers weren't suspended because it was an opportunity for them to learn a lesson.

"Yes, we have expectations of the students in the academy. Football is one of the sports and these three boys were part of that group," the headmaster said.

"The others, as part of an education programme, were spoken to about it. I think they've learned their lesson. It was eight months ago and I've got no reason to believe this will happen again.

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"We've certainly got a duty of care to all of our students while they're with us, I'm also fully aware that they aren't with us all the time. We thought that was the most appropriate sanction to help them learn a lesson, put it behind them and move on."

The principal confirmed neither police or parents of the students' teammates were informed about the incident at the party.

"No, we spoke to all the parents of all the students whose names came up as part of the conversations we had, which is regular practice," they said.

"If two students had done something in a form class, we wouldn't ring the whole form class. We'd ring the [parents of the] students whose names had come up."

The principal also confirmed one of the trio had since moved schools.

"I know of one student who has left and gone to another school. That was their decision," they said.

"I'm very conscious that we're dealing with very [young] people, teenagers, and from their perspective there's been a sanction, they've moved on.

"When things like this happen, we're sad about it. We're a big family, a big community and we're there to educate young people. Sometimes things go wrong and we're there to work with them, involve their parents, put it behind us and move on.

"I genuinely think they'll have all learned their lesson and will be able to make better decisions in future."

A police spokesperson said they had no knowledge of the incident and would not comment.

College Sport Auckland chief executive Jim Lonergan said he was surprised at the minor sanction handed down to the trio.

There were currently no binding guidelines for suspensions for recreational drug use by school players, he said.

The sporting body he heads - which coordinates sport for 107 secondary schools in the greater Auckland area - is currently undertaking research which aims to provide guidelines to schools, parents and players over both recreational and performance enhancing drugs.

"It is hard to mandate what a school should do because they have their own policies and guidelines," Lonergan said.

He was hopeful the research College Sport Auckland was conducting would highlight the perils of drug use.

"We are currently working with Sport New Zealand so parents and schools are aware of what drugs, both enhancing and recreational, can do to performance and what pressure use puts on students," Lonergan said.

"We are also working with New Zealand Secondary School Sports Council and drug agencies so we can come out with some guidelines to take to students."

The Ministry of Education confirmed the school had not "sought any assistance from us" over the handling of the issue.

Katrina Casey, the ministry's head of sector enablement and support, said that wasn't "unusual", adding whether schools required extra support often depended on the complexity of the issue they were facing.

"Schools are only required to report information to us about student behaviour, including the use of drugs, when students are stood down," Casey said.

"How a school responds to and manages individual incidents is a matter for the school. This is because they are responsible for managing student behaviour and discipline."

Ministry guidelines around the use of stand-downs, suspensions and exclusions "should only be used as a last resort after other methods have been tried", Casey added.