'Covid changed culture in schools' amid rise in violent incidents 

Disturbing videos of attacks involving pupils shared on social media have caused widespread shock.

‘Covid changed culture in Scottish schools’ as violent incidents reach highest level in five years Getty Images

Violence in Scotland’s schools has reached its highest level in five years, while bullying goes under-reported and teachers fear unfounded allegations.

During the lockdowns implemented during the height of the Covid pandemic, children’s experience of education changed dramatically.

Schools were closed, and then when they reopened they returned to very different academic settings.

New education secretary Jenny Gilruth, herself a former teacher, said Covid had changed the culture in Scotland’s schools.

Last week, three teachers were taken to hospital after an incident involving a former pupil at a secondary school in Renfrewshire.

On Thursday, freedom of information requests revealed there were nearly 15,000 incidents of violence reported last year – 10,852 of which were in primary schools.

However, the true figure is higher with Glasgow and South Ayrshire not providing the data.

Watchdog Education Scotland published a review in April that found bullying across Scotland’s schools was at risk of being under-reported because it wasn’t recorded properly.

It came after a number of disturbing videos of attacks involving pupils were shared widely on social media.

“horrific” video of an attack on a girl in a classroom in Fife was followed by the revelation that violence in the area’s schools had doubled in the last two years.

In the first two months of 2023, 639 incidents had already been reported.

Gilruth has said the Government will publish an update on the national picture of behaviour in schools by the end of the year.

Teaching unions and opposition politicians have called for more to be done sooner.

“It is simply unacceptable that teachers in Scotland are going to work worried about their safety or that parents worry about the safety of their children in school,” Scottish Labour education spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy said.

“This situation didn’t start overnight.

“That the planned report on this is not expected until December shows a lack of urgency from the government on this serious issue.”

Duncan-Glancy has called on Gilruth to “act fast” and deliver an urgent statement to the Scottish Parliament on how the Government will keep teachers safe.

Teaching union NASUWT said an increase in the amount and severity of verbal and physical violence from pupils appears to be a legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mike Corbett, the union’s national official, said the Scottish Government needed to make “strong and unequivocal statements” about the rights of teachers to a safe working environment.

Gilruth said any form of violence in schools is “completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated”.

The education secretary addressed the issue in Holyrood on Tuesday last week having attended both the NASUWT and Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association’s conferences.

“It is clear that Covid has changed the culture in our schools – in part that relates to behaviour, but we need to look more broadly at things like attendance particularly in those year groups who faced transition periods, for example primary to secondary, during lockdown,” Gilruth said.

“I am determined to ensure that teachers and all school staff are better supported to deal with behaviour in our schools, including reporting of incidents.

“We will continue to engage with trade unions and later this year we will publish updated material showing the national picture in relation to this issue.

“It is clear that responding to the issues presented by changes in behaviour and relationships in our schools will require a partnership approach.

“The Scottish Government works closely with local authorities to tackle violence and bullying in schools, supported by wider investment of more than £2m on violence prevention.

“But our local authorities have a statutory responsibility for the provision of education in our schools – ministers look forward to working with COSLA, ADES and our trade union partners on this issue, noting that the national picture has not yet been captured by our evidence gathering.”

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