A LOCAL education authority has defended its strategy to tackle school bullying after bucking the national trend by overseeing a sharp increase in bullying-related expulsions from its schools.

North Yorkshire County Council has issued the statement some 20 years after its bullying policies were put under the microscope as it became the first education authority to pay compensation to a school bullying victim following schools being legally required to introduce policies to tackle the issue.

The authority, which has admitted the county’s 841 per cent increase in the number of home-educated children between 2014 and last year is partly fuelled by pupils being bullied, is overhauling its systems in a bid to reduce the rising number of exclusions.

However, headteachers have claimed the council’s attempt to force mainstream schools to stop excluding pupils will not deal with the root causes of the rise, which included an increase in diagnosed mental health issues, schools’ zero tolerance policies, a narrowing of curriculum and reduced funding to schools.

A study of Department for Education data by tuition firm Oxford Home Schooling has revealed the number of bullying exclusions in North Yorkshire soared by 49 per cent between the academic years that ended in 2017 and 2018, with 47 pupils permanently excluded for bullying in 2017 and 70 the following year.

Neighbouring local education authorities in Darlington, Redcar and Cleveland, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Bradford, York, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and Durham all saw the number of bullying exclusions drop, by between nine and 67 per cent, over the same period. The national average for England was a 14 per cent decrease.

Last year, while there was one bullying exclusion per 3,297 students in Darlington, and one per 6,978 students in York, in North Yorkshire there was one expulsion per 1,277 students.

Dr Nick Smith, principal at Oxford Home Schooling, said: “It is encouraging to see that in many areas the numbers of exclusions for bullying are decreasing. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that bullying is becoming less of an issue, it might suggest that schools are taking measures to deal with the problem, rather than just removing the children involved.”

One parent of a North Yorkshire pupil who moved school after claiming his child had suffered years of bullying, whose name is withheld, said: “There’s a huge contrast between different council-run schools’ attitude towards bullying.

“At the first school the headteacher actually insisted there had not been a single bullying incident in her ten years at its reins. At the other there’s a healthy openess about the issue and as a result, it’s very apparent bullying is tackled at an early stage before it becomes deeply damaging.”

Jane le Sage, the North Yorkshire council’s assistant director of inclusion, said both the local authority and North Yorkshire schools took bullying “very seriously” and schools had responsibility for making sure that incidents of bullying are addressed appropriately.

She said: “The local authority has been working with schools to develop further positive cultures of respect and positive relationships which will have an impact on the causes and effects of bullying.

“We have heavily subsidised the costs of training for schools that have expressed an interest in relationship-based behavioural approaches as part of our drive to reduce exclusions.

“Schools also have access to regular support and guidance from behaviour and attendance advisers, along with the offer of safeguarding and bullying reviews.

“Through our Special Needs and Disabilities strategic plan, we are working with school leaders across localities to ensure schools are able to access therapeutic support from a range of professionals in our new SEND multi-disciplinary teams, which will be established from April 2020.

“Our approaches are having an impact and current data for the 2018/19 academic year shows that the percentage of children either permanently excluded or receiving one or more fixed-term exclusions has decreased.”