THE number of schoolchildren smoking has reduced significantly over the last few years according to headteachers - despite new figures revealing that almost 1,000 pupils in Barnsley start smoking every year.

Figures from Cancer Research UK show that 951 pupils, some as young as 11, take up the habit.

But headteachers at town centre secondary schools Holy Trinity and Horizon Community College said it was not a massive problem.

Simon Barber, headteacher of Holy Trinity, Athersley, said: "You’re always going to have a handful of students who smoke and you try to do as much as possible to encourage them to lead healthy lifestyles.

"But they grow up in a world outside of school where cigarettes are available.

"Cigarettes are part of life and when they start smoking outside of school they become addicted and want to smoke in school."

Paul Gallagher, co-principal at Horizon Community College, agreed the number of students who were regular smokers had reduced.

He said the school invested considerably in student health, adding: "We had a massive presentation last year when we gave all the facts about smoking."

The figures were released as part of Cancer Research UK’s ‘Setting the Standard’ campaign to discouraged young people from starting to smoke.

A spokesman for Public Health Barnsley said current data backed up the headteachers’ claims.

He said the proportion of children who smoke often or daily has decreased this year, with 6.5 per cent of boys and 13.2 per cent of girls stating that they smoke regularly, compared with 17.6 per cent of boys and 20.9 per cent of girls in 2010.

Cllr Chris Lamb, council spokesman for public health, said: "One child smoking in Barnsley is still one too many and this is a reflection of high smoking rates in the town and the efforts of the tobacco industry to recruit new smokers."