Children in Wales bring knives and drugs into classrooms as schools face behavioral crisis

Bad behavior has soared in schools, with headteachers warning that closures and isolation have left many young people unable to cope.

In response, some bring knives and drugs to school “to show off and make friends”, while a growing number resort to verbal aggression and fights.

If bad behavior was a problem before Covid, it is now a major pressure caused by wider social issues, the chiefs have warned. Along with the more extreme end, they described growing problems, including:

  • Fights between students
  • Verbal aggression towards staff
  • Rows outside the school spill into the classroom
  • Confrontation of students and parents
  • Children not knowing how to work with others, share and cooperate

Read more: Teenager stabbed in pre-planned ‘gang violence’, court told

“There will now be very few schools in Wales that are not involved with the police. It’s a tiny minority of kids but it’s increased in the pandemic,” warned Jane Harries, principal of Haverfordwest High, describing the behavior’s extreme end.

Matthew Salmon, deputy head of Olchfa High in Swansea, said top performing schools were not immune.

“The behavior has deteriorated. It would be a mistake to think that this does not happen in high performing schools. I spoke to colleagues from faith-based schools and community schools. It happens everywhere, in cities and in the countryside. We are really under pressure. It will take years to settle. »

Antisocial rows and behavior outside of school are spilling over into classrooms, and vulnerable students are under threat from County Lines criminals and drug dealers, chiefs have warned.

Although this is the end of the problem, many other children struggle to engage and cooperate in school after two years of restrictions on their social lives and so much time out of class. Younger students entering secondary school have a particularly difficult time adjusting, socializing and knowing what behavior is expected, they said.

“The children went through a very difficult time”

Ms Harries said the children had had a ‘very difficult time’ and were not to be blamed. She said they needed support, but the problem needed to be recognized and resolved.

“You find that kids who are a little anxious and don’t fit in will do things they wouldn’t have done before to make a friend.

“All over Wales people bring knives and drugs because they want to belong. Certainly drug use (among pupils in Wales) has increased.

“Leaders have spoken of aggressive displays and the use of objects, such as knives or drugs, to belong. It’s sad that it’s the only way they can think of to make friends.

“It’s older students who are more drawn to it and vulnerable children are targeted by smart people (outside of school) with knives and drugs. County lines are definitely on the rise.

“From my school perspective, we’re lucky we haven’t had a knife crime problem, but I know schools that do.

“Police tell us that drug and knife crimes and anti-social behavior outside of school are increasing (among young people) because they seem to have forgotten social and moral parameters.

“It’s a Wales-wide problem. I’ve been on a number of forums with headteachers saying behavior has deteriorated and it’s hurting learning.

“Schools try to educate on what is acceptable behavior. I don’t blame anyone. It’s a combination of circumstances in the pandemic. It’s horrible for children. »

Matthew Salmon, who is also president of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said the isolation and stress of the pandemic has caused a pattern of “ingrained antisocial behaviour”. The confrontational behavior of students and parents has increased.

“Our members are saying the same across Wales – they see deteriorating behavior and very significant challenges.

“It’s consistency and the level of challenge that students are now ready to take on. I suspect you would find this no matter who you spoke to in the 22 local education authorities. This happens in cities and in the countryside.

I don’t think you can underestimate the impact of the last two years on young people and we don’t really know the extent yet. We are also encountering increasing challenges from parents.

“Last term Swansea struggled to deal with permanent bans. Bans have increased dramatically. Behaviors range from verbal abuse to physical aggression. At my school we have seen an increase in confrontational behavior and a increased physical fights or interactions, especially among younger seventh graders.”

He said he had no evidence of drugs or knives at his school, but was aware there was a drug problem in Swansea which was unlikely to improve during the pandemic.

“We had identified that there were issues relating to causal drug use in terms of the school community and this was linked to issues in the town of Swansea. Prior to the pandemic, we began multi-agency work with County Lines teams.

“The students have done incredibly well, but now we’re in a situation where we need to do some serious behavioral work,” said Jackie Parker Headteacher Crickhowell High School.

Jackie Parker, principal of Crickhowell High in Powys, said the school was “a magic cocktail that allows students to grow” emotionally and academically. The pandemic had blocked that. She said additional funding would be needed for years to come to help children recover from the effects of the pandemic across Wales.

“The students have done incredibly well, but now we’re in a situation where we need to do some serious behavioral work.

“It highlights that schools are more than academic institutions. School is about emotional intelligence, empathy and friendships as well as academic performance. There will be no quick fix.

In Cardiff, Martin Hulland of Cardiff West High School said the lines on social media had increased and ended up in schools. Some younger children who hadn’t had the usual transition to high school were struggling to figure out how to behave.

Neil Butler, Welsh leader of the Nasuwt teachers’ union, said its members had reported higher levels of verbal abuse from children.

“The main problem is disruption. We hear of a real increase in behavioral problems and a lot of verbal abuse, but not physical.

“It seems to be a general problem everywhere.”

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