Exclusive: Pupils 'routinely cough on others'

Tes survey reveals the extent of Covid behaviour breaches – as union says it will take time for new rules to bed in

Coronavirus: Pupils are routinely coughing on others and crossing bubbles in schools, teachers warn

A third of teachers say they are routinely having to discipline pupils for coughing at people, refusing to their wash hands or crossing "bubble groups", according to a Tes survey.

And around one in every dozen teachers admit they are ignoring these issues altogether.

One teacher said in the survey that a pupil who coughed at a colleague and said "I'll give you Covid" was given “as little as a warning”, while another teacher said breaches such as crossing bubbles and coughing on others resulted in a meeting with parents.


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Another teacher said: “We were told by the head that a much stricter approach would be taken this year, with everything going on, but, if anything, it has been more relaxed and [there’s an] 'Oh well, they're in school at least' attitude.”

The findings follow new behaviour guidance from the DfE amid the coronavirus pandemic, including a document that states “purposefully coughing on someone” should now be considered “a serious breach of behavioural expectations”.

Coronavirus: 'Overwhelming' behaviour problems in schools

One teacher, who said she was "deliberately coughed at" by a Year 9 boy, said the incident felt "very personal". 

She posted on Reddit: “I've written it all up and my SLT will deal with him in the morning. What's surprised me is how upset I am. I don't usually take things personally with other types of poor behaviour, but this feels very personal.”

Meanwhile, a secondary head from the Midlands told Tes how behaviour issues had worsened since pupils returned after lockdown, and were now "overwhelming", particularly with disadvantaged pupils.

She said: “We're having swearing and screaming and really over-the-top behaviour because pupils haven’t been challenged at home for six months and have been left alone to do whatever they wanted.”

The head, who did not wish to be named, said Year 7s were “off the wall” in terms of behaviour because they were not “secondary-ready”, having missed the final months of primary school.

The Tes survey, carried across the UK in both primary and secondary schools, has attracted more than 7,500 responses, including from classroom teachers, senior leaders and teaching assistants.

It asked: “How routinely are pupils at your school disciplined for Covid-related behavioural issues – eg, coughing at people/refusing to wash hands/crossing bubbles?”

More than 11 per cent said “always” while 8.5 per cent said “usually” and 12.5 per cent said “sometimes”. A further 19 per cent said “rarely”, while just over 8 per cent said issues were "ignored/tolerated".

A quarter said there were no Covid-related behaviour issues at their schools and 13 per cent said they didn't know. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers expected the number of breaches to reduce as pupils became more familiar with processes.

He said: “Covid safety presents a new set of rules which pupils will be getting accustomed to, and it is therefore not surprising if this may take time to settle down. It is important that these rules are followed and schools will therefore be endeavouring to instil them in a proportionate and positive manner.”

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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