The dark side of the whiteboard - Attainment with a sugar coating

15th July 2011 at 01:00

My husband is on a diet. This time he is taking it seriously. Usually when he is trying to lose weight he just slaps a bit of Flora pro.activ on his bacon butties, but now our fridge is bursting with cottage cheese and salad bags and he is spooning out natural yogurt faster than a honeymoon bride. A couple of weeks ago he read an article on type 2 diabetes and was shocked to discover that he is a prime candidate as he is fat, 50 and metabolically knackered. Type 2 diabetes can be triggered by poor diet and, according to the latest research, it's reaching pandemic proportions. While its side effects are devastating at any age, most worryingly it is beginning to afflict the young.

Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising. We have become a nation of feeders, and teachers are the worst offenders. In the classroom, confectionery is used as a cure-all. We use sweets to reward success and inhibit bad behaviour because it's often easier to bribe kids than apply elaborate sanctions. Two of my favourite behaviour-management strategies are a tub of Tangfastics and some remaindered Creme Eggs. Nor is our calorie-driven crowd control limited to bottom sets: when we hand out lollipops to the gifted and talented, it's their waistbands, not their abilities, that we are stretching and challenging. The problem is that schools are happily raising pupils' blood sugar levels alongside their attainment.

But it's not just teachers who are responsible. From what I've seen in the dinner hall, austerity measures have yet to dent the content of the kids' lunchboxes. For a busy parent, nothing says "I love you" so much as a triple chocolate cookie and a bottle of Lucozade Sport. And judging by the litter in the yard, point-of-sale sweeties have become the currency of guilty parents who have money but not time to squander on their kids.

In the past, we celebrated success with kind words, a Ladybird book or a handwritten eulogy in an end-of-year report, not a shed load of sugary snacks. Hence we never confused calories with self-worth. Also, significantly, we did not eat out. My generation were more interested in French kissing than French fries. But things are different now: my eldest two are a case in point. When I was a student we read TS Eliot and measured out our lives in coffee spoons; my kids read Nando's menu cards and measure out theirs in PERi-PERi chicken and spicy rice.

Come to think about it, we hardly bothered with food at all. Thanks to the Sex Pistols, we generally preferred spitting to swallowing. Food was a prophylactic: we only resorted to doner kebabs to stop us from regurgitating the five pints of beer we had downed in the union bar, and the toxic mix of poppers, poverty and pogoing kept most punks cadaverously thin. Actually, I was on the chubby side, but then I was never a proper punk. I was always more Felicity Kendal than Siouxsie Sioux. I was the proud owner of both Never Mind the Bollocks... and John Seymour's Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, the seminal good-life guide to living off the land. Hence I never knew whether I was supposed to create anarchy in the UK or a useful five-acre holding.

Short of resurrecting Sid Vicious as a role model, schools need to adopt new strategies to re-educate overweight kids. And since we got them hooked on Haribo in the first place, we had better stop feeding their habit.

- Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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