More children in Peterborough are being excluded for racist abuse than ever before

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Schools in Peterborough are excluding increasing numbers of children for racist abuse, new data has revealed.

A leading anti-racism campaign group has warned that England's classrooms are feeling the effects of racist opinions becoming "mainstream" in wider society.

More children in Peterborough are being excluded for racist abuse

More children in Peterborough are being excluded for racist abuse

The warning came after a particularly sharp increase in racism-related exclusions, which have been going up every year over the past five years.

In the 2016-17 academic year, schools in Peterborough handed out 15 exclusions to children who had engaged in racist abuse, which could include behaviour such as racist bullying, graffiti or derogatory remarks.

This was an increase of 67% from the previous year, when nine such exclusions were recorded.

Although the school population has been increasing at the same time, the rate at which racism-related exclusions have increased is higher than the rate of population growth.

This means racism exclusions are now more prevalent relative to the number of school children than they were a year ago.

The picture in Peterborough mirrors the national trend, with schools in England handing out 4,590 exclusions for racist abuse last year, up 21% from 2012-13 when it was 3,790.

Almost all of these were temporary exclusions, which are known as fixed-period exclusions.

Only 25 children were excluded permanently as a result of racist abuse, although this figure is the highest it has been for five years.

Owen Jones, head of education at campaign group Hope Not Hate, said that part of the increase could be the result of better understanding of race issues in schools, with teachers becoming more effective at spotting "more nuanced" forms of racism.

However, he also warned that wider societal attitudes and the rise of extreme content online are having an impact on younger generations.

"I feel that we are seeing what is happening in wider society occuring in schools", he said.

"There are certainly fewer racists about and the young generations are certainly more open-minded than other ones.

"However, with the mainstreaming of lots of racist opinion, those who do hold racist opinions feel more confident bringing it up in the classroom than they would a decade ago.

"Also, with the ease of access to very extreme opinion online - YouTube for instance - which not only empower young people to express these views, but also give them the arguments to back themselves up."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said it was right that headteachers should use exclusions to tackle racism when necessary.

He said: "Racism has absolutely no place in our schools and is completely unacceptable.

"All schools must have measures in place to tackle bullying, including racist bullying, and we have made sure headteachers have the power to take swift action to tackle this sort of behaviour, including through exclusions where appropriate."

Overall exclusions are also on the increase in Peterborough's schools, rising to 1,329 in 2016-17 - the equivalent of around four exclusions every day.

This represents an increase of 23% in just five years.

In England, exclusions numbered around 389,600 in 2016-17, up from 346,000 the previous year.

This represents an increase from 4.4 exclusions per 100 pupils to 4.9.

The vast majority were on account of "persistent disruptive behaviour".

Ministers from the cross-party House of Commons education committee have described the increase in exclusions as "alarming" and "a scandal".

They have called for a "bill of rights" for pupils and their parents, which will include a commitment that schools do not rush to exclude pupils.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Schools should only use permanent exclusions as a last resort but we do support teachers in taking proportionate and measured steps to ensure good behaviour in schools.

“Whilst we know there has been an increase in exclusions there are still fewer than the peak ten years ago.

"We recognise some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others which is why we launched an externally-led review to look at how schools are using exclusions and why certain groups are disproportionately affected."

An NSPCC spokesperson for the East of England said:“It’s worrying that children are displaying racist behaviour and it’s important that teachers continue to challenge children who discriminate against their peers and explain why what they’re doing is harmful and wrong.

“Over the last three years Childline received 2,500 calls about racial and faith based bullying with spikes in counselling sessions with victimised children following terror attacks.

“It’s vital that child victims of hate crimes and bullying are fully supported and young people can call Childline on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk for help and advice.”