HEADTEACHERS forced to exclude hundreds more pupils a year have warned budget cuts mean they can no longer employ enough support staff to deal with a rise in bad behaviour.
Figures analysed by The News show a steady rise in the number of fixed-term exclusions - previously known as suspensions - across Portsmouth and Hampshire schools.
Heads, who say exclusions are always a last resort, and other education experts, have laid the blame on funding cuts.
Budget reductions have seen a drop in the number of classroom support staff, who previously looked after disruptive or troubled youngsters. They also say that many children are displaying more extreme behaviour in schools.
Data from the Department for Education and Skills shows that in Portsmouth during the school year 2014/15, there were 1,390 fixed-term exclusions in primary and secondary schools. This rose to 1,738 the following year, and 1,824 in 2016/17.
The council’s own figures reported 2,606 for the last academic year - a rise of about 25 per cent.
In Hampshire the 2014/15 figure was 5,960, rising to 6,572 in 2015/6. The 2016/17 figure was 7,424. Figures for last year were not available.
Julie Summerfield, headteacher at Horndean Technology College, said: ‘I think the reason is twofold.
‘Schools are now catering for students with more extreme behaviour and at the same time the real term cuts in school funding means there has been a reduction in the support services available to students with such behaviour.’
Stubbington’s Crofton School headteacher Simon Harrison said: ‘While there are a number of contributory factors, I’d emphasise the diminishing options for schools as a result of funding pressures.
‘No headteacher takes the decision to exclude lightly but funding cuts mean the available alternatives are fewer than they were in the past, and may be driving the increase in some areas.’
And Ian Gates, headteacher at The Cowplain School added: ‘Schools across the country are seeing children with more challenging behaviours and some support services to help these children are under increasing pressure. I suspect this could be contributing to more exclusions nationally.’
He added: ‘At Cowplain and in the Havant area we work hard on collaborating between schools to avoid fixed-term exclusions and we‘ve managed to keep them down to below national levels. However, there are occasions when a child’s behaviour is not conducive to the effective learning of others.’
Unions agree that funding cuts are key. National Education Union vice-president and Portsmouth teacher Amanda Martin said: ‘This is another example of the fall-out where economic decisions have taken precedence over children’s education.
‘In the past, schools would have had access to larger inclusion departments and one-to-one support to deal with students’ needs. Educational welfare officers were also there to provide support to families dealing with children with behavioural problems.’
The issue of exclusions has been raised at Portsmouth’s health and wellbeing board.
Dr Jason Horsley, director of public health, said: 'The issue that stood out to me was the rate of school exclusions going up by 25 per cent, that's worrying.'
Mike Stoneman, the council's deputy director of families, said that the reasons for the rise are complex but include tight budgets, which have seen levels of pastoral and behaviour support decrease in schools.
He also said that schools are having to provide education for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs who in the past might have been placed in special schools, and that teacher recruitment and retention issues and rising pupil numbers were also factors.’