Energy drink-mad boys drive former St Albans supply teacher from career

Laura Douglas.

Laura Douglas. - Credit: Archant

A former teacher has described the “horrific” things she dealt with on a daily basis when she taught in St Albans schools.

Throwing things in class and swearing at teachers is not what many people think of when musing on St Albans’ highly-rated schools.

Yet that is what one teacher faced when she was practising in schools in the city.

Laura Douglas, 38, has spoken out in the national media about a rampant energy drink addiction in the UK’s classrooms after she quit teaching for good.

The former religious education teacher said: “It’s probably five or six boys winding each other up by making silly comments, and ruining the learning of everybody else.

“What they want to do is stay up with violent computer games and eat Haribo, then they are tired in the morning so they take energy drinks.

“Part of the problem is technology. They sit down and expect instant gratification. You are meant to do all-singing, all-dancing lessons so I have used pass-the-parcel games before. It’s mad what you are expected to do.

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“I think it’s a real cultural problem, even in St Albans, and I have been horrified in some St Albans schools.”

At one of the city’s schools she described as “absolutely terrible”, the head told Laura it was not the boys’ fault, they just hated supply teachers.

Laura said: “If the head does not respect the supply teachers, the kids will not either.”

She has appeared on ITV’s This Morning with medical professionals to talk about energy drink addiction and is supporting Jamie Oliver’s campaign to have them banned in schools.

Asda and Aldi announced last week they would ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16s.

“Parents have no control over what their children are doing nowadays and are not really interested.

“Kids walk to school and buy whatever they want. Parents do not know what to do with them either.

“I was a social worker before, so I’m quite resilient, but it really gets you down and it’s not that we are not passionate. There are bits of teaching I will miss, but I would spend days and weekends working.

“When I was a teacher in Stevenage I was working 90 hours a week and spending loads of my own money, and when the kids are telling you to f*ck off you think ‘why am I doing this?’”

“I spent several New Year’s Eves planning A-Level syllabuses with a glass of Prosecco because they have mocks in January.”

Laura blames Ofsted’s unrealistic expectations of schools for the problem, saying headteachers spend more time in their office colour-coding spreadsheets than walking around the school.

She has now left teaching behind for good, as have the 12 people she trained with in 2010, for varying reasons.

Meanwhile Education Secretary Damian Hinds launched a drive in The Times on Friday to bring more established professionals into teaching, and Roundwood Park School head Alan Henshall told a parliamentary committee the school had advertised 16 teacher jobs since May, of which nine had no applicants at all.

Laura said: “Even though I have left teaching, I still get emails asking ‘do you want a job?’

“I have been for half day’s supply teaching and they have taken me in, without having seen me teach, and said ‘would you like a job?’

“You can name your price as a supply teacher.”

She has even seen school dinner ladies filling in at primary schools because the teacher has gone home ill.

The joint general secretary of the National Education Union Kevin Courtney said: “Schools do all they can to provide an environment conducive to learning, but they can’t control what’s on sale beyond the school gates.

“If the government is serious about protecting children, it needs to put their interests before the profits of the energy drinks industry and ban the sale of these harmful products to under 16s.”

A Herts County Council spokesperson said: “We would advise children should avoid and don’t need energy drinks. Waters and fruit juices are better, or milk, and fizzy drinks as a treat rather than a daily thing.

“Energy drinks are not needed for most people at any stage of life, unless they are athletes or recovering from illness.

“Healthy eating and drinking is actively encouraged in schools across Hertfordshire with a range of healthy options available on a daily basis.

“In the schools where catering is provided by Hertfordshire Catering Limited (HCL) everything we sell is School Food Compliant and meets the standards of the School Food Plan meaning that all drinks offered are water, milk or fruit based. We do not sell energy drinks or fizzy drinks in the schools.

“While pupils are actively discouraged from bringing these drinks in from home we obviously have no control over what they drink out of school.”