So, 2020 is the year that home schooling, online lessons, face masks and social distancing became the norm. It is nearly a year later and the new norm has not changed. So it makes sense why both pupils and school staff are finding navigating the pandemic and their new norm hard. 

Old challenges but also new challenges will have been created in the classroom and in online lessons because of the pandemic.  To minimise the impact of the challenges it is important that time is taken to understand how the feelings of uncertainty, grief, anxiety, pressure and despair might be communicated through students’ behaviour in online lessons and also in school. 

Ofsted has reported a rise in exclusions rates during the Covid-19 pandemic which has been attributed to teachers not being able to “put in place their usual layers of sanctions before exclusion.”¹   Preventative methods which reduce the likelihood of a student being excluded can be positive but the methods used need to accurately address the reason behind the behaviour. 


If we do not understand the reason behind behaviour. Our response will be based on an incorrect assumption which will lead to further conflict between both parties. Let’s use the example  of a baby. If a baby is crying because it needs its nappy changing but you think it is because it is hungry, both parties are going to get frustrated. The baby will be frustrated because its needs are not being met and you would be frustrated because you will think that you are meeting the needs of the baby so you will wonder why the baby is still crying.

Babies cannot communicate verbally what is wrong and the majority of students won’t verbally communicate what is wrong either. Their behaviour however will communicate a message. The behaviour will probably be very negative but remember ‘the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth’.

So, when we assume a particular behaviour is because of rudeness, a lack of respect etc we should ensure that we have truly understood what is happening beneath the surface. Only when this is done we can  truly respond to their needs appropriately. 

Remember, it is always up to us to decide how to interpret and respond to the behaviour.

Beneath the surface 

We suggest that trying to understand the why behind behaviour is always important but this is especially the case during the pandemic. Pupils’ mental health is really suffering. Students have told us that they feel increased pressure due to having to catch up academically, they miss their friends and  they feel like they are living the same nightmare each day.

The experience that some students are having at home whilst being in lockdown is further adding to these negative feelings. 

Did you know?

  • Incident reports of children dying or being seriously harmed after suffering abuse or neglect have risen by over a quarter (27%) after the first lockdown in the UK last year.² 
  • NSPCC has reported a 79% increase in the number of referrals of child abuse since UK-wide lockdown in 2021.³
  • England’s Mental Health of Children and Young People Survey has reported mental health conditions across all age, sex, and ethnic groups has increased from 10.8% in 2017, to 16% in July 2020. ⁴
  • Europol, the European policing agency, has reported an increase in offenders attempting to contact young people via social media since the beginning of the pandemic.⁵

These are all things that many students who are displaying challenging behaviour may be experiencing. Therefore, it is key that there is an understanding of  what is going on at home and how this might be communicated through their behaviour in online lessons and in school. 

School to prison pipeline

Studies carried out by the University of Exeter have shown that students can suffer from increased levels of psychological distress for up to three years after they have been excluded. ⁶ If this is the case imagine the additional distress someone may experience after being excluded from school during a pandemic.

Exclusions during the pandemic have risen and disproportionately impacted BAME students. ⁷ Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust race equality think tank when Speaking to the Women and Equalities Committee, suggested introducing a temporary ban on school exclusions, “because these are impacting on young black men in schools at the moment—in the middle of a pandemic.”⁷ Her concerns are justified, with 25% of the prison population and 41% of the youth justice system in England and Wales made up of people from BAME backgrounds despite constituting for only 14% of the general population.⁸ These pupils are subjected to the dangers of becoming another student that goes down the school to prison pipeline.


The impact that the pandemic has had on students who have special educational needs (SEN) is equally concerning. Three quarters (73%) of special educational needs coordinators (SENCO) have stated that their schools have experienced challenges with providing virtual support to SEN children.⁹ Students with SEN need specialised support in order to help them achieve their academic goals, if these are not met then they are left frustrated and let down by the system that is supposed to help them.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, thinks that these students could be disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to the constraints on the education system and a lack of resources to properly support them. ¹⁰ Anne Longfield also comments that the pandemic may also lead to a spike “in disciplinary interventions, exclusions and persistent absence” among  children with SEN. ¹⁰ This expected rise in exclusions will only lead to a wider gap in these students’ academic development in comparison to their classmates.


During the pandemic we should all  take a step back and remember that we are all in this together.

Underneath the surface we are all coping with our own challenges and problems and sometimes this might be expressed in different ways to how we are used to. It’s easy to get caught up in these challenges and forget to take the time to understand what others are going through. 

Say It With Your Chest will continue to support students struggling during the pandemic and will continue to advocate a stance of understanding and empowerment over isolation and exclusion. If you would like to find out more about our services, click here


¹ Ofsted (2020). COVID-19 Series: Briefing on Schools, October 2020. [online] UK GOV. UK GOV. Available at:

² BBC News (2021). Covid-19: Rise in suspected child abuse cases after lockdown. BBC News. [online] 16 Jan. Available at:

 ³ Pollock, I. (2020). Covid: Child abuse referrals up nearly 80%, says NSPCC. BBC News. [online] 18 Dec. Available at:

⁴ Info, W., Odd, D., Sleap Bsc, V., Appleby, L., Gunnell Dsc, D., Luyt, K. and Michael’, S. (2020). Child Suicide Rates during the COVID-19 Pandemic in England: Real-time Surveillance Child Suicide Rates during the COVID-19 Pandemic in England: Contact us National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) Programme. [online] . Available at:

⁵ EUROPOL (2020). Catching the virus cybercrime, disinformation and the COVID-19 pandemic. [online] Europol. Available at:

⁶ University of Exeter (2017). Exclusion from School can Trigger Long-Term Psychiatric Illness. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jan. 2021].

⁷ Johnson, K., Donkin, A., Longfield, A., Davies, R. and Begum, H. (2020). Women and Equalities Committee Meeting Transcript. [online] UK Parliament. London: Women and Equalities Committee. Available at:

⁸ Lammy, D. (2017). The Lammy Review An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System. [online] . Available at:

‌⁹ Bath Spa University (2021). Flagship SENCO report reveals the impact of Covid-19 on pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. [online] FE News. Available at: [Accessed 12 Jan. 2021].

 ¹⁰ Longfield, A. and Children’s Commissioner for England (2020). Childhood in the time of Covid. [online] Children’s Commissioner for England. London: Children’s Commissioner for England. Available at:

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