A SCHOOLS watchdog is writing to secondary headteachers in the region expressing concerns over high rates of temporary exclusions.

Schools in Middlesbrough have the highest rates of exclusions than anywhere else in the country, with 984 pupils getting 4,804 fixed-period exclusions last year, Ofsted said.

And Redcar & Cleveland saw 2,594 exclusions involving 658 students.

Hartlepool was also high, with 763 exclusions involving 326 pupils, while Durham, Darlington and Stockton were in line with the national average. North Yorkshire's exclusion rate was just below the national average.

Ofsted warned that it was concerned some schools were using the technique to exclude pupils while inspections were ongoing, to boost results.

But teaching unions said sweeping cuts to local authority budgets were robbing schools of the ability to deal with challenging pupils, as well as reduced special educational needs budgets within schools themselves.

As Ofsted's regional director Cathy Kirby said she was writing to schools in the region over concerns about high rates of fixed-term exclusions, the watchdog warned it was going to be extra vigilant about 'off-rolling' of troublesome pupils.

A fixed-period exclusion means a pupil is barred from attending school for a set period of time, which can be anything from part of a school day up to a maximum of 45 days within a single academic year.

To find out why exclusions in Middlesbrough and Redcar are so high, Ms Kirby is asking her inspectors to look "very carefully" at how schools use exclusion when managing pupils' behaviour.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said in her annual report that she supports a school's right to exclude pupils but "only when necessary", for example if their behaviour is violent, threatening towards teachers or affects other pupils' learning.

Ms Kirby said: "I fully appreciate variations between individual secondary schools and recognise that there may be valid reasons for schools to exclude pupils. But it is difficult to understand why fixed-period exclusion should be so much more necessary in these local authorities compared with others.

"Schools should only ever use exclusions as a last resort. If not properly applied, being removed from school can disrupt a child's education and affect their future life chances.

"So I am asking inspectors to look very carefully at the use of exclusion in areas with high rates compared with national and regional figures. We want to be certain that pupils are being removed for the right reasons."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The decision to exclude a student is never taken lightly and always as a last resort.

“This is an area where prevention is better than cure but school budgets are at breaking point so many of the measures that schools take to ensure good behaviour and adequate support for pupils are under threat.

“We’ve seen cuts in local authority services such as behaviour support teams, combined with reductions in pastoral care. Speech and language therapists for pupils with additional needs are disappearing. In addition, there are frequently delays in providing mental health support for pupils who need it.

“Schools can’t do it on their own. To avoid exclusions, they need support from the other local services around them. The issues that underpin exclusions reach far beyond the school gates, so schools need access to expert resources to help them identify at an early stage those students who need more help.”