Permanent exclusions of Dorset schoolchildren have risen by more than 700 per cent in four years.

Schools in the Dorset County Council area saw a 722 per cent increase in permanent exclusions between 2013/14 and 2017/18.

A breakdown of these figures shows that the number of permanent exclusions has risen from nine cases to 74 during this period.

This is not proportionate to the increase in the total number of children attending school across the same area, as that only rose by 2.44 per cent between 2014 and 2018.

A concerned parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted the Echo with these figures after making a Freedom of Information request to Dorset County Council. The parent said: "The threshold for exclusion is getting lower and lower.

"It's much less of a big deal for schools but it has a massive effect on the child. They internalise it and just think they are the naughty kid. That becomes part of their identity forever.

"I think it has a lot to do with cuts to support for children with Special Education Needs (SEN).

“When teaching assistants are cut, SEN children are the ones who suffer the most. You can't buy support from thin air, if children with SEN aren't supported there are consequences.

"I think Ofsted contributes too because schools are under so much pressure to get results and if a child is not getting results then the school will just exclude them."

A report by the Education Select Committee in July last year said: “An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded.”

The report also noted a rise in ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies, a lack of early intervention and an increase in mental health needs as other reasons for the rise in exclusions.

Duncan Sowry-House, from Corfe Mullen, has been working in education for the last 12 years. He agreed that pupils with SEN, including two of his own children, are most affected by cuts.

He said: "We are facing increasing challenges when dealing with schools however, in my opinion, this is all driven by finance and a complete lack of understanding.

“Not only are children being excluded there are many others who are actively managed out of the system completely and whose parents feel there is no other choice but to home educate.”

The Education Select Committee report said that many pupils in alternative provision haven’t been excluded, but that there were some pupils whose parents have been encouraged to take their child out of school voluntarily.

A report by the Centre for Social Justice said it is hard to know exactly how many pupils are educated in alternative provision, however the number of children registered as home educated in the Dorset County Council area has more than doubled from 200 in 2013/14 to 478 in 2017/18.

Mr Sowry-House added: “The evidence shows that the outcomes for those children as they become adults is deeply impacted, whether formally excluded or managed out of the system.”

Council response to permanent exclusions rising by more than 700 per cent

Andy Reid, Assistant Director for Schools and Learning at Dorset County Council, said: "The number of permanent exclusions has increased considerably over the last five years. One of the key factors behind this increase is a change to council policy.

"From 2006-2018, we allowed headteachers to refer children at risk of permanent exclusion to one of our learning centres. The child would remain on roll with the mainstream school, but would also be dual registered with the learning centre. The aim was that a child would be re-integrated back into mainstream school after spending time in a learning centre. However, the reality was that most of these children did not return to their school.

"In April 2018, we stopped dual registration in line with national Department for Education guidance and focussed on our statutory duty of providing for children only when they had been permanently excluded. Schools were still able to purchase dual registration places at learning centres, but these were no longer heavily subsidised by the council. This has led to a significant increase in permanent exclusions.

"In an ideal world we wouldn't see any child permanently excluded from school. We recognise the pressures that schools face and are working continuously with headteachers and other organisations to avoid permanent exclusion and support those children who are struggling to remain in their school education.

"We’re working more with families and other professionals to identify what other issues or problems that a young person has that is putting them at risk of exclusion. One way we are tackling this is through Family Partnership Zones. These bring together a variety of professionals - including staff from schools, health, police, the council and voluntary sector. The aim is that professionals in their local zone share information and work together in partnership with families to offer support before matters escalate.

"We have also established and are continuing to create specialist bases in a number of mainstream schools across the county to specifically help children with more complex needs - including those with social, emotional and mental health issues."