FIFE COUNCIL chiefs believe the anxiety suffered by young people due to COVID and lockdown has contributed to an increase in violence in classrooms and non-attendance at school.

As the Press reported last week, it was revealed there had been more than 700 incidents of verbal and physical abuse in the Kingdom's schools in August and September alone, the number of "school refusers" had also gone up, with officers agreeing that the pandemic was a factor.

At this week's education scrutiny committee, head of service Maria Lloyd said: "If you compare this year to last year there's definitely something in what's happened after COVID and certainly we've seen a lot more staff-related incidents with young people."

Cllr Louise Kennedy-Dalby said: "A lot of teachers have come to us over the last few years and said there's an awful lot more verbal abuse, and some physical abuse, that they're getting in the classroom.

"As a parent myself, I've noticed with COVID that children have a lot more anxiety and issues connecting with each other and they're struggling.

"Is there a way we're trying to help them deal with these issues that's better for staff and pupils?

"We shouldn't have our staff feeling they're not safe in their own classroom."

The head of education and children's services, Shelagh McLean, said that they were working closely with schools to help them deal with behavioural issues and to support staff.

Cllr Alycia Hayes asked: "I'm wondering if there is a link between violence and aggression towards staff and non-attendance post-COVID?

"Has there been any evidence or investigation into the psychological impact of COVID and are kids staying off due to stress and anxiety?

"If so, what support are we giving both kids and parents to get them back to school?"

Ms Lloyd said there had been an increase in the number of "school refusers" and added: "I'm not trying to blame COVID for everything, I'm just saying we've seen a bit of an apathy and that's got worse.

"We are trying a number of different interventions but we have seen, generally, some breakdown in terms of attendance across the nation."

She said the service was going in to schools to discuss the most "at risk" pupils to see what support they could provide, and pupils and parents that needed to could consult an educational psychologist online on a "no names" basis.

After referring to the increase in "staff-related incidents with young people", Ms Lloyd said they were committed to training and the creation of 'trauma-informed workplaces'.

She said: "We feel if all staff know about it, they're better able to deal with a young person who is displaying distressful behaviour and understanding it.

"We all know that distress is about communication and they're trying to communicate something to us.

"That's very much our field when it comes to additional support as well.

"We know that lots of the violent incidents with regards to those who have additional support needs, it's usually because they're trying to communicate something to a member of staff.

"That does not help the member of staff if they're assaulted, I don't mean that at all, but we are trying to create a better environment."

Executive director of education, Carrie Lindsay, said: "There is most definitely a correlation between the experiences that some of our young people had during COVID and the anxiety that they now feel and I think that's not just our children and young people but our parents as well so we're looking to provide appropriate support."