Ministers have announced a review of school exclusions, amid concerns that some youngsters are more likely to be taken out of classrooms than others.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds argued that there are “inconsistencies” in children’s experiences of education. Government figures show that pupils in England’s state schools were suspended on 339,260 occasions in 2015/16, up 12% on the previous year, and up 26% on 2013/14.
In addition, the number of pupils who were given at least one fixed-period exclusion rose from 154,060 in 2014/15 to 167,125 in 2015/16, a rise of almost 9%.
It is understood the review will examine all types of exclusions, seeking views from different groups about how exclusions are used by schools, and looking at which children are more likely to be excluded.
It is likely that the review will look at issues such as cases where pupils are moved between schools, why this happens and how the process is carried out.
Concerns have also previously been raised in the past that some schools are attempting to play the system by “off-rolling” pupils who may affect their performance in league tables.
Mr Hinds said: “Children only get one chance at their education and they deserve the best. But for too many children – and often those who are most vulnerable – there are inconsistencies when it comes to their experiences of school and too many parents are left worried and concerned.
“That’s not good enough which is why we are going to improve our understanding of these important issues and tackle them head-on.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools take decisions on exclusions very seriously. They only exclude pupils when all other strategies have been exhausted and when the behaviour of the child concerned is disrupting the education of other young people or presents a welfare risk to other pupils and staff.
“Government underfunding and severe cost pressures have meant that many schools have had to cut back on support to deal with behavioural issues at an early stage and this may result in exclusions ultimately taking place which could have been averted if more resources were available.
“There are anecdotal reports that a very small number of schools have ‘off-rolled’ children – removing them from the school roll in order to improve their results in performance tables. This is an unlawful practice and is deplored by our members.
“We have established an ethical leadership commission to set out a series of principles to support leaders and teachers in calling out unethical practice such as ‘off-rolling’ should they encounter such behaviour.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “I welcome this review.
“I have become more and more concerned that some schools are gaming the system by off-rolling some of the most vulnerable children, including some with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, into alternative provision or home education to try and improve the school’s overall exam results.
“Our own research suggests there are tens of thousands of children we cannot be certain are being educated at all.”