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Children no longer know how to play post-COVID resulting in inappropriate behaviour at school

Children’s inappropriate behaviour in schools is escalating in schools as young people no longer know how to play together, a headteacher has warned.

Paula Derwin, headteacher at Hazelmere Junior School in Colchester, said that following the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns where children spent months being taught at home and out of the school environment, there has been a rise in inappropriate behaviour during break and lunch times at school with children no longer knowing how to play together.

“Children are struggling to play, listen to each other and communicate which is resulting in more aggressive behaviour in the playground during breaks,” said Mrs Derwin.

“Things escalate very quickly and the ‘fight or flight’ animal instinct kicks in and it can result in one pupil hurting another and then sanctions need to be introduced to manage behaviour which some parents can be unhappy about and a minor incident can snowball very quickly,” she added.

As a result, Mrs Derwin has commissioned an external company to come into Hazelmere and carry out football games at lunch time to give children a positive game to participate in. The same company also runs activities on a Friday afternoon at the school for children who are struggling by the end of the school week and need a positive activity to focus on.

Mrs Derwin’s concerns were reiterated by a teaching assistant at a school in East Anglia who explained that boys in Year 6 in particular were struggling at lunch times and were getting themselves into trouble because they didn’t know how to play with each other or communicate. The young people at the school would end up climbing trees or getting into fights over the tiniest disagreements.

Two teaching assistants at the East Anglia school took it upon themselves to set up a football game – as Hazlemere has also done - to try and incentivise the children in Year 6 to engage in something positive and it proved really successful.

“Those children who were getting into trouble weren’t a problem at all when they were playing football. They had just got out of the habit of knowing how to communicate effectively with each other,” said the teaching assistant.

The COVID-19 pandemic also had a detrimental effect on children and young people’s mental health with one in six children aged five to 16 identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021 – 16 months after the first lockdown – up from one in nine in 2017, according to NHS Digital.

The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition warned last week that often behaviour is linked to children experiencing mental health problems and that children shouldn’t face “punitive punishments” such as exclusion and removal rooms to improve behaviour in schools.

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