Weapon-wielding teens, booze, bullying and drugs contributed to children being kicked out of North East classrooms tens of thousands of times in just a year, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Extreme and potentially criminal behaviour in schools is reflected in shock statistics showing pupils were suspended from our region’s schools on more than 27,300 occasions in 2020-21.

Most suspensions saw children temporarily removed from secondary schools – but primary-age youngsters were suspended more than 1,700 times and special school students on nearly 650 occasions.

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That year, there were also 325 permanent exclusions, 11 involving children aged 11 or under.

Persistent disruptive behaviour was the most common problem cited in reasons given for both suspensions and exclusions, followed by physical and verbal abuse.

However, on more than 500 occasions pupils were kicked out over incidents involving drugs or alcohol.

And there were 315 suspensions and 28 permanent exclusions linked to using or threatening to use offensive weapons or other “prohibited” items.

Echo analysis of Department for Education figures also uncovered five permanent exclusions and 145 suspensions linked to sexual misconduct – six involving primary pupils.

Breaches of coronavirus rules, recorded for the first time, were behind 977 suspensions and three permanent exclusions.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said extreme behaviours were rare and often involved children with complex problems.

Calling on the Government to do more to ensure schools have the capacity to identify and support children before their behaviour spirals to exclusion, she said schools are not immune to problems occurring in wider society.

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She added: “They have in place very clear behaviour policies and sanctions, and they educate pupils about these matters through their curriculum, assemblies and visiting speakers.

“Such extreme behaviour may often involve pupils who have complex problems and, while schools endeavour to identify and provide appropriate support to young people before their behaviour reaches this point, their capacity to do so is constrained by years of government underfunding of the education system.

“The government must make more resources available for the provision of specialist and pastoral support.”

Ms McCulloch also said there should be more focus on improving the consistency of education for children who are excluded.

Government taskforces have been established to provide targeted support to pupils at risk of crime or exploitation, to keep them engaged in education.

A DfE spokeswoman said exclusion is only used as a last resort and does not mean exclusion from education.

She added: “Permanent exclusions are rare but a necessary way of managing behaviour so that all pupils can learn in a calm, safe and supportive environment.”

The latest figures reflect the first year of the coronavirus pandemic and cover periods of school lockdowns.

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