Drink hidden in classroom

1st July 2005 at 01:00
A primary teacher found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct, after nearly 200 bottles of alcohol were discovered in her classroom cupboard, has admitted being disgusted by her own behaviour.

Barbara Edwards had hidden brandy, wine and Bacardi Breezer bottles among bags and boxes of teaching materials at North Ealing primary, in west London.

Speaking to The TES after her case was heard by England's General Teaching Council in Birmingham, she said: "I feel totally appalled and disgusted with myself.

"I know it was a stupid thing to do. But I wasn't sneaking alcohol into school because it was a jolly thing to do. I did it because I wasn't able to stop without medical treatment. Without alcohol, I would get nausea and the shakes."

The 56-year-old had begun drinking after the sudden death of her father.

She had been addicted to alcohol 20 years previously, during a violent relationship, but had been sober since. Miss Edwards said she thought that the local authority should have been more sympathetic to her illness.

"There's no magic pill you can take to say, 'Whoo-hoo, I'm cured'," she said "But I'm maddened that I was brought before the GTC for misconduct, when I had a chronic illness. A term's sick leave to deal with the problem wasn't suggested to me."

In March last year, Judith Anderson, deputy headteacher, found Miss Edwards staring into space in her classroom, the GTC heard. She returned later to find the CD player on and the classroom smelling of alcohol.

Staff reported that Miss Edwards regularly smelled of alcohol and behaved erratically. One pupil in her class wrapped a piece of cord round another child's neck and children left her lessons without permission.

She was dismissed in April 2004. She checked into an pound;8,000-a week clinic for a fortnight and still has weekly appointments at the doctor's.

Miss Edwards told the GTC hearing: "Alcoholism has a memory. I thought I could handle it, but it doesn't work like that. I drank spirits to calm my stomach so I could drink the wine.

"I knew the situation I was in and the risk I was taking with my job. I feel totally appalled and disgusted with myself. If I was in a normal frame of mind it would never have crossed my mind to get into that sort of situation and take alcohol to school."

She now works as a marker for the Edexcel exam board, and hopes eventually to find long-term supply work.

She told The TES: "This short period of madness hasn't taken away my expertise, skills or love of children. I have been teaching for more than 30 years. But my professional status and my self-esteem have been taken from me. It's put tendrils into every aspect of my life."

David Brierley, solicitor for the Professional Association of Teachers, which represented Miss Edwards, said: "Barbara has recovered from an absolutely dreadful position at the bottom of the hole. It's been a huge financial and often extremely hard personal commitment that she's taken on."

Miss Edwards was ordered to provide the GTC and her employer with a medical report saying that she continues to be in remission from alcohol dependency.

She was also ordered to notify any future employers of the terms attached to her registration as a teacher.

"There's no excuse for what I did," she told The TES. "Teachers are only human. I know we're supposed to be paragons of virtue, but we're subject to the same pressures as everyone else.

"But with all that's happened, with all the distress and anxiety and feelings of futility, I've kept my sobriety.

"I wonder how many of us are out there, how many have been able to work their way back into teaching. It's about getting someone to trust you again."

Ealing local authority said that it did provide sympathy and support for Miss Edwards. A spokesman said: "She had numerous offers, including leave, occupational health, and becoming part-time. However, the welfare of the pupils has to be paramount. Once the teacher had declined these offers of support, there was no alternative but to consider this a formal conduct issue."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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