Children are becoming more violent at school as lockdown ‘delayed their development’ and created a ‘background of fear’, psychologist warns – as report reveals one in five teachers have been hit by pupils this year


Children are becoming more violent at school as lockdown caused a ‘delay in their social and emotional development’ and created a ‘background of fear’, a psychologist has warned. 

It comes as a survey commissioned by the BBC found one in five teachers have been hit by pupils this year, with many reporting a rise in violent behaviour compared to two years ago. 

Spitting, swearing, fighting, pushing and chair-throwing were among things happening more frequently in schools across the country, according to the new survey.

Erica Bowen, Chartered Coaching Psychologist & Registered Forensic Psychologist, told MailOnline that the pandemic restricted opportunities for children to develop social skills.

She said the ‘isolation’ and ‘background of fear’ created by Covid will likely have impacted children’s mental health leading to ‘more acting out’.

Dr Bowen added: ‘Research shows that in some studies there is an identifiable lag between the social skills of those children who had online vs face to face teaching during the pandemic. Coming out of lockdown and pandemic restrictions means that for some children there is a delay in their social and emotional development.

‘The isolation and background of fear as well as the impact on families who experienced loss during this time will likely also have impacted children’s mental health which then influences behaviour too – leading often to more ‘acting out’ behaviours. 

‘For some children, there is likely to be a level of trauma that was experienced as a consequence of the pandemic, which may also be relevant to their ability to relate to others, especially with regards to emotion regulation.’  

A graphic showing how pupil behaviour is getting worse in English schools, according to a survey conducted by the BBC

A graphic showing how pupil behaviour is getting worse in English schools, according to a survey conducted by the BBC 

A total of 9,000 teachers in England were asked about their experiences managing behaviour in the classroom – and a higher proportion reported violent behaviour compared to two years ago.

The impact of Covid lockdowns has long been blamed for the change in attitude, with one boss claiming parents are ‘less tolerant’ than before the pandemic, ‘and that communicates itself to students as well’.

Research from this year also found the number of suspensions has doubled in six years, with parents accused of not having ‘any respect or regard for school rules’.

Daniel Dawkins who runs Aspire People, a teaching recruitment agency, said he had seen the levels of recruitment decline, especially in secondary education.

‘What that means is schools are finding it more and more difficult to manage behaviour because of a shortage of staff,’ he said.

‘As a teacher recruitment agency, that supplies supply teachers into schools, what we then find ourselves doing more and more is preparing our supply staff to manage behaviour rather than teaching the class and educating young people.’

He said more teachers were applying for part-time roles and one of the main reasons for this was due to issues with behaviour.

Mr Dawkins said a survey by Aspire People had revealed stabbings, physical violence and threat levels had increased since the pandemic.

He told the BBC: ‘Teachers are walking out regularly. We’ve had schools close because of behaviour in the classrooms and supply teachers and teachers alike report that back to us.’

Supply teacher Lorraine Meah, who has been working in the profession for 35 years, reported seeing children aged just three to four-years-old ‘spitting and swearing’.

But she admitted the worst behaviour came from five and six-year-olds with ‘dangerous tendencies’ like throwing chairs. 

She told the BBC: ‘You will get three or four children in your class displaying challenging behaviour. That’s hard to deal with when you’ve got a class of 30.’ 

Fifteen per cent of teachers also reported experiencing sexual harassment from a pupil.

But Nick Hurn, CEO at Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust which has schools in Durham, Sunderland Gateshead and Northumberland, said last year it was only a small minority who were causing problems.

He said both children and parents had become ‘far less tolerant’ since Covid.

He told The Guardian in November: ‘So you do get a little bit more awkward behaviour from more children than you used to get. If they’ve seen the parents don’t have any respect or regard for school rules, why should they?’

Nick Hurn, CEO at Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust which has schools in Durham, Sunderland Gateshead and Northumberland, (pictured) said last year it was only a small minority who were causing problems

Nick Hurn, CEO at Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust which has schools in Durham, Sunderland Gateshead and Northumberland, (pictured) said last year it was only a small minority who were causing problems

Olly Parker, Head of External Affairs at YoungMinds, said more young people than ever are struggling with their mental health which in turn is impacting behaviour.

He said: ‘ Living through a pandemic during key developmental years, facing intense academic pressure to catch up on lost learning, a cost-of-living crisis and increasing global instability have all taken a toll on young people’s mental health.

‘Schools can and should be supportive environments, providing a sense of community, belonging and social interaction, but we know they’re also one of the top factors impacting negatively on young people’s mental health. 

‘We hear on our helpline from parents whose children are experiencing emotionally based school avoidance, and the causes are often varied and complicated. This could be because of anxiety, bullying, academic pressure, difficult relationships and a lack of support.

‘Young people should be able to access support for their mental health when they need it, including in school, but schools are stretched to breaking point and mental health support is a postcode lottery. We urgently need the Government to prioritise young people’s mental health and commit to providing mental health support in every school in the country.’

The survey, commissioned using Teacher Tapp, found 30 per cent of teachers had seen a fight in the week they responded to the BBC’s questions.

Two in five teachers said they had witnessed some form of aggressive behaviour which needed intervention in a single week.  

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASWUT union, told the BBC the rise in abuse in schools is down to ‘cuts to specialist behaviour and mental health services’ which have left teachers trying to ‘fill the gaps’ that require specialist input from that of a counsellor or therapist. 

It comes as MailOnline revealed on Tuesday that ‘scared’ teachers were locking classrooms to keep violent pupils out. 

One school teacher in Tower Hamlets, where recent data showed there were cases of children being suspended for using knives, screwdrivers and even a BB gun, told MailOnline: ‘It can often be a challenging environment to work in.

‘I often deal with difficult students who don’t seem to want to learn at all. Some can be quite aggressive which makes safety a big concern.’

Debra de Muschamp, (pictured) from the head teachers' union told the BBC some teachers have been left 'shaken, frightened and isolated'

Debra de Muschamp, (pictured) from the head teachers’ union told the BBC some teachers have been left ‘shaken, frightened and isolated’ 

Teachers have been forced to lock classroom doors amid fears of having to keep aggressive pupils out

Teachers have been forced to lock classroom doors amid fears of having to keep aggressive pupils out 

Research by consultancy Public First, revealed a ‘seismic shift’ in parents’ attitudes towards school attendance, with pandemic closures and teacher strikes damaging the social contract between schools and families. 

More children are also being home schooled than ever. Official figures from last year showed that 86,000 children in England were home schooled on one day last year – and 116,300 are home schooled full time. Both are steep increases of up to 50 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

Rachel Clark, who has a 15-year-old daughter, recently withdrew her out of mainstream education because she said the system ‘isn’t fit for purpose’.

She told MailOnline: ‘The rise in behaviour problems since Covid is a symptom of what the Government has done to education but they are determined to blame the children. Adding more and more pressure, focus on results instead of the process, turning schools into sweatshops. Then when children respond to this pressure, punishing them.

‘The rise in homeschooling isn’t feckless parents who think school is optional, it’s professional, well educated parents who believe the education system isn’t fit for purpose and these children are transformed when they leave that environment.

‘I’m sick of the Government blaming Covid, kids, parents, teachers anything but own it.’

A teacher who was left with a life-changing disability after being attacked by a child in his classroom, said there was a ‘toxic culture of teacher blame’ among staff.

He told the Daily Record there was not enough protection for teachers within the education sector, leaving them feeling unsupported in their roles.

He told the newspaper: ‘I was severely injured when a child jumped on my back in school. I have been left with a life-changing disability and I am in severe pain daily.’ 

Mike Corbett, NASUWT National Official for Scotland, called for teachers to be better supported in tackling violence in schools, saying there was an ‘absolute need’ for ‘serious consequences’ for ‘serious behaviour’.

Mike Corbett (pictured), (NASUWT) Official for Scotland said more needs to be done to support teachers trying to tackle violence in schools

Mike Corbett (pictured), (NASUWT) Official for Scotland said more needs to be done to support teachers trying to tackle violence in schools 

He told the Daily Record: ‘Research has shown to be ineffective in creating a safe working and learning environment and that is fuelling much of the problem with violence that we see at the moment.’

St John Fisher Catholic Academy in Dewsbury has been working hard to improve its pupil behaviour after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2022.

Karl Mackey, the school’s fifth headteacher in six years, told the BBC there was a ‘culture of bullying and intimidation’ at the school that needed to be stamped out.

Under Mr Mackey’s leadership, mobile phones have been banned and there are strict rules about going to the toilet during lessons.

Creative subjects like Drama, Dance and Music have also been brought in.

Mr Mackey went on to say that parents and the wider community have noticed a shift in pupil’s behaviour. 

Karl Mackey (pictured), headteacher of St John Fisher Catholic Academy in Dewsbury has been working hard to improve its behaviour after it was rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted in 2022

Karl Mackey (pictured), headteacher of St John Fisher Catholic Academy in Dewsbury has been working hard to improve its behaviour after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2022

He said: ‘This year you’ll see them in lessons every single day, not late, in perfect uniform, trying their hardest.’

During the pandemic, the Department for Education launched a £10million behaviour hub programme to allow schools struggling with pupil behaviour to be paired with others to offer advice and support, but the programme is due to finish this year. 

One in five respondents also reported experiencing online or verbal abuse from parents. NAHT said teachers had reported having their tyres slashed and have been physically assaulted.

Speaking to the BBC, Debra de Muschamp said it had left some teachers feeling ‘shaken, frightened and isolated’ and said ‘enough is enough’.



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