2,300 children suspended from England’s state schools each day

The number of suspensions from schools in England has risen as the same students are repeatedly removed from class, official figures show.

Government statistics reveal that the number of fixed-period exclusions, also known as suspensions, rose from 410,800 in 2017/18 to 438,300 last year.

This is equivalent to around 2,307 children a day being suspended from England’s state schools.

Headteachers suggested the rise was down to a squeeze on budgets and cuts to children’s services.

While persistent disruptive behaviour remains the most common reason for suspensions, there has also been a rise in other causes, including physical assaults against pupils, racial abuse and drug and alcohol-related incidents.

This increase in suspensions has been driven by more pupils having repeated fixed-term exclusions, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

The report from the DfE says the rise has also been driven by secondary schools, which saw the fixed-period exclusion rate rise from 10.13 to 10.75 (1,075 pupils per 10,000) over the period.

Pupils were permanently expelled on 7,894 occasions in 2018/19 – down from 7,905 in 2017/18, the DfE figures show.

This is equivalent to around 41 children being expelled every day in England.

The figures also show that poorer pupils – those on free school meals – were around four times more likely to be excluded permanently than their classmates.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said: “These figures make appalling reading. Every year thousands of children – often the most vulnerable – are being written off by our education system.

Ms Moran, who is calling for a review into school exclusions, added: “This Government should be ashamed that they have presided over continually high rates of permanent exclusion.

“We need to see action to address the disproportionate number of exclusions among pupils on free school meals, as well as black Caribbean, gypsy and Roma, and Traveller pupils.”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The number of children in England being excluded permanently from school is still unacceptably high and the number of children being excluded temporarily is increasing.

“With many children out of school for six months as a result of the lockdown, I am worried that some will struggle to adjust to being back and that there could be a further rise in exclusions ahead. That is why I have called for an NHS-funded counsellor in every school.”

“Excluding a child makes them more vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs and less likely to leave education with the qualifications they need to succeed,” she added.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Fixed-period exclusions have been rising since 2015 as a result of Government under-funding of schools and local authority children’s services.

“Despite the best efforts of everybody involved to limit the impact of funding cuts, it is inevitably more difficult to provide support and early intervention to tackle issues which can give rise to challenging behaviour within the reality of reduced budgets.

“The decision to exclude is never taken lightly, and is used only when other options have been exhausted. Schools do their best to minimise the use of exclusions, but they also have a responsibility to the learning and safety of other pupils.”

A DfE spokesman said: “We will always back headteachers to use exclusions as part of creating calm and disciplined classrooms that bring out the best in every pupil, but permanent exclusion should only ever be a last resort.

“We know that some pupils will return to school in September having experienced loss or adversity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which is why we have also provided guidance for school leaders on how to re-engage these pupils and create the right classroom environment to help them thrive.”

Guidance released by the DfE earlier this month called on schools to engage with the parents of young people, especially those who previously faced fixed-term exclusions, ideally before the start of the new school year “to set expectations, understand concerns and build confidence”.

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