Repeated use of school exclusions is having a negative impact on pupils and pushing them into "risky" and criminal behaviour, a major report from Barnardo's has warned.
Suspending students causes long-term harm and increases alienation from education, according to a study from the children's charity published today.
The warning follows a rise in the number of fixed-term exclusions since 200304, even though the rate has begun to drop in the past two years. Across England there were more than 363,000 suspensions in 200809.
Barnardo's is concerned that the sanction is being relied on too heavily by schools and the same pupils are being repeatedly removed from class.
About one in 20 secondary school pupils is excluded each year, in what Barnardo's brands an "over-used and ineffective punishment".
Two-thirds of fixed-period exclusions in secondary schools were given to pupils who had already received at least one earlier in the year.
Those suspended are more likely to become involved in "petty crime and risky behaviour", according to Jane Evans, the charity's research officer.
"The message given by exclusion appears to be that it is OK to give up or walk away from tough situations," Dr Evans writes.
"This is not a helpful message to give young people who may already be demotivated by living in poverty, by racism, or by struggling to meet the demands of academic work.
"The most prevalent official reason for school exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour. This raises questions about how behaviour is allowed to become 'persistently disruptive' without effective intervention at an earlier stage to guide the young person's behaviour and help them to resolve problems that distract them from learning."
Most excluded children are from poorer families, which "exacerbates" the achievement gap between them and their richer peers, the report says.
Barnardo's is calling for a "trigger" to stop repeated use of suspensions and force schools to assess children's needs. It also wants teachers to stop illegal unofficial exclusions.
Dr Evans interviewed a range of people including pupils, teachers and youth offending teams for the study. Some pupils told her they spent the time they were excluded from school smoking cannabis.
In 2003, 4.5 per cent of pupils received a fixed-term exclusion. That number rose to 5.6 per cent in 200607, before falling back to 4.8 per cent in 200909.
Schools minister Nick Gibb has said that despite the fall, poor behaviour remains a significant problem.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "Suspensions should always be a last resort approach, but teachers have to balance the needs of the individual with that of the class and school as a whole and they need to be able to keep education for all going."
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: 'Schools have to balance the needs of badly behaved pupils against those of other children. But just because teachers are using suspensions, it doesn't mean they are not trying to help pupils."
'A last resort'
At Deptford Green School in Lewisham, south east London, the number of exclusions has gone down by 50 per cent in three years.
Badly behaved pupils go to an internal exclusion unit within the school, which headteacher Peter Campling said stops children falling behind with their work.
"Suspensions are sometimes necessary as a last resort, but they have to have a real impact to work," he said.
"When we suspend pupils, they are given a significant amount of work to do, they write letters of reflection and apology. We also have a re-entry to school meeting with them and their parents and they spend a day in the internal exclusion unit in silence."