PUPILS no older than 11 have been kicked out of school due to sexual misconduct, drugs or alcohol, it has emerged.

New statistics show the number of exclusions in Oxfordshire has almost doubled in four years, with the majority dished out to punish persistent disruptive behaviour.

One primary school pupil was permanently expelled in the 2017-18 school year for sexual misconduct, while another was given a temporary exclusion for the same reason.

Four primary school pupils and 129 secondary school pupils were suspended over drugs or alcohol, while 39 secondary school pupils were suspended due to theft.

Overall, 4,518 fixed-term exclusions were issued last year, up from 4,184 in 2016-17, and it was the fourth year in a row that figures have increased.

County councillor John Howson described the trend as 'disappointing,' and said pressure on school funds could be a factor.

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He said: "We have to educate children. The problem with saying 'they're naughty, punish them' is that we know children who are successful at school cost the state much less in later life.

"Those who are excluded can fall into crime, get picked up by county lines [drug dealers] and end up in the judicial system."

The Department for Education figures show that 736 Oxfordshire pupils were temporarily excluded for physically assaulting a pupil, while 442 had lashed out at an adult such as a teacher or a teaching assistant.

Six primary pupils and 40 secondary pupils were excluded due to racist behaviour.

At secondary level, 20 pupils were excluded due to sexual misconduct.

Although the number of temporary exclusions increased, the number of permanent expulsions dipped, from 51 in 2017 to 42 in 2018.

Despite schools being urged to only use exclusion as a last resort, they have been on the rise in Oxfordshire since 2013, when temporary exclusions stood at 2,850.

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Analysis of the national figures from the Department for Education stated: "The increase in fixed period exclusions has been driven most strongly by more pupils having repeated exclusions."

Prof Howson said the pressure on high-needs funding - cash allocated for pupils with special needs and disabilities - has left schools without sufficient resources to support troubled pupils.

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Carole Thomson, chairwoman of Oxfordshire Governors' Association, also said funding and staffing cuts were key issues.

She said: "Schools and governors wish to be inclusive, but funding pressures make it increasingly difficult to provide the necessary support and alternative curriculum offers that are needed, to support some of the most challenging behaviour in our schools.

"Lack of funding for early intervention services supplied by the local authority has also increased the pressure on schools, who are increasingly expected to address the ills of society [while] per pupil funding is decreasing in real terms."

Ms Thomson also said the curriculum is turning away from vocational subjects, leading to a lack of engagement for students less suited to academic subjects.

She added that 'increasing levels of poor mental health in our children' and the 'inadequacy of funding' for children's mental health services had also contributed.

Last year a report commissioned by the Local Government Association said pressure on high-needs funding in schools had reached 'tipping point.'

It said: "[There are] perverse funding incentives that mean that, in the short term, it can be cheaper to pass the cost of a permanent exclusion onto the high needs block than making good quality preventative support available in-school.'

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Concerns led Oxfordshire County Council's education scrutiny committee to carry out an investigation last year into exclusions.

It found that 'a high proportion of pupils at risk of exclusion were vulnerable learners and those with additional needs or disabilities.'

As the majority of Oxfordshire schools are now academies, not run by the council, it has little power to take action.

Prof Howson said it must fall to regional schools commissioners, who oversee academies, to intervene where necessary.

Last month a representative of the regional schools commissioner reassured the committee that exclusions are 'high up on the agenda.'

Prof Howson praised the council's Virtual School, which helps schools to keep vulnerable children - who might have behavioural issues - in education.