Covid-19: Increasing problems of poor pupil behaviour

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
Working as a supply teacher, some schools are on the ball with the rules and insist that while out ...

Posted by: ,

The NASUWT is receiving increasing reports of pupils using Covid-19 as part of poor behaviour, including coughing at school staff and deliberately flouting safety rules. Dr Patrick Roach says concerted action – from schools and government – is needed

The government’s claims that schools are Covid-safe is being challenged across the board, not least because of its failure to follow the scientific evidence, the lack of social distancing in schools, the absence of face coverings in classrooms, and inadequate cleaning, hygiene and ventilation.

Poor pupil behaviour has also once again reared its head, and this time as a genuine threat to Covid security.

From workers in shops, hospitals, delivery drivers and others we hear daily stories of the increased abuse many have experienced when going about their jobs and while trying to keep service users and the public safe. And schools are no exception.

Many teachers are reporting to us incidents of pupils deliberately coughing in the faces of staff and other students, throwing used masks at others in school, emptying hand sanitiser onto the floor, refusing to follow safety measures on social distancing and mask-wearing, and stealing safety resources.

While such behaviour is confined to a minority of pupils, where such incidents occur they endanger the safety of all staff and students in schools. In some schools, such behaviour is taking place on a daily basis and given the risks posed to human life by Covid-19 it is putting school staff and other pupils at genuine risk.

We have always been clear that teachers cannot teach and pupils cannot learn unless there is good order and discipline in schools. Employers and the government have a duty to act to address behaviour which compromises the health and safety of teachers and support staff and which is also undermining efforts to tackle the spread of coronavirus in the wider population.

Poor pupil behaviour continues to be among the top concerns our members have about their job and is a key factor, along with excessive workload, in driving teachers out of the profession and in deterring new recruits from taking up a career in teaching.

At this time, safety in schools more than ever before hinges on everyone playing their part and acting with respect and consideration, and with schools recognising the need to continue to take action to tackle indiscipline, violence and abuse.

Our most recent survey of members, which attracted nearly 7,000 responses, found that nearly a third of schools had not introduced any provisions for excluding pupils who deliberately put others at risk by their behaviour. Only 43 per cent said such measures were in place and were being followed consistently at all times.

Every school should have in place an up-to-date behaviour management policy as part of the package of safety measures and adaptions needed to maintain a Covid-secure environment. This policy should set out clearly the behaviours expected of all pupils, staff and school leaders in maintaining Covid-safe order and discipline.

And, while the government could provide real help, teachers report to us a lack of adequate support in maintaining a climate of positive pupil behaviour and in helping those pupils who have experienced heightened anxiety and mental health difficulties as a result of the pandemic.

For teachers working in PRUs and alternative settings, there is extremely limited guidance available, including on how to deal with the most challenging behaviours where physical restraint may be required.

Teachers are reporting increased numbers of incidents requiring physical intervention with pupils since the full re-opening of schools at the start of term. The situation is particularly acute in alternative settings where teachers and other staff are expected to adopt a “business as usual” approach, which can involve physically intervening with pupils who are distressed, without PPE. The result can be teachers who are subsequently subjected to coughing and spitting by pupils in response.

The safety of pupils in distress is of course a priority for teachers, but protecting pupils should not be at the expense of their own welfare. Clear guidance from government on how to mitigate the risks in such circumstances is needed.

Government must also recognise that many young people need additional support at this time. That is why we are calling for more funding for schools to meet the additional costs they face in ensuring Covid-safe working arrangements and to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable pupils.

The government pledge of extra funding for mental health support is welcome, but does not go far enough to make up for a decade of cuts to children’s services and the provision of behaviour support. Even before the pandemic teachers were reporting huge difficulties in accessing timely professional counselling and mental health treatment through CAMHS for pupils.

Teachers have demonstrated their willingness to do whatever it takes for pupils. But teachers, in all settings, also have a right to expect to be safe at work. That means concerted action nationally and within schools to prevent the spread of Covid-19, while also ensuring that schools are free from the threat of abuse, violence and indiscipline.

  • Dr Patrick Roach is general secretary of the NASUWT. Read his previous articles for SecEd via

Working as a supply teacher, some schools are on the ball with the rules and insist that while out of the classroom everyone must wear a mask and sanitise before each new lesson. Other schools however have a more relaxed outlook. I was told at one school that 'Students and staff can wear masks if they want to but you don't have to', so no-one did.
Posted By: ,

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin