THE pressure on schools to produce good exam results is leading to an increase in the number of children being permanently excluded in the lead up to GCSEs, it has been claimed.

Last year the number rose by around a third in County Durham, with a 55 per cent increase among pupils in years 10 and 11.

Durham County Council said targets introduced in 2016 for schools to demonstrate progress made by pupils - known as “progress eight” - was contributing to an overall rise in the number of children being excluded from secondary schools.

There was also a “marked” rise in the number of year seven and eight pupils being excluded.

A report produced by the authority says the issue remains a “significant concern”.

It adds: “The pressure on schools to post positive examination results must be partly responsible for the rise as the total exclusions taking place in Years 10 and 11 rose from 20 in 2015-16 to 31, and this matches a national increase in Key Stage 4 exclusions.”

Councillor Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “There’s been a lot of research on this. The one that rings true for me is the pressure to perform highly, leading some schools to do that and exclude pupils.

“There is pressure from government and from Ofsted because schools are judged on exam results. I think some are reacting in what some would say is a rational way but it’s not good for the community as a whole.

“This isn’t just something Durham sees, it’s a much wider national issue.”

In 2016-17, the total exclusions rose from 58 to 78, an increase of 34 per cent, while among pupils in years 10 and 11 it went up from 20 to 31.

All were from secondary schools while 62 were boys and 16 girls. A total of 58 per cent were from academies, which are not under the control of the local authority and account for more secondary places than maintained schools.

Cllr Gunn added: “It’s something that needs to be highlighted and raised without a doubt. It’s an issue nationally and it’s something that needs to be addressed nationally.”

She added: “What we don’t want to do is attach blame to schools. There are complex issues and we need to work with all our schools. It’s a problem that’s not going to go away soon.”

Mike Parker, director of Schools NorthEast, a school-led regional network, said: “It’s too simplistic to say schools are trying to produce exam results. To me there are a lot of headteachers who would take exception to that.”

He added: “There’s phenomenal pressure - the improvements around school is incredibly high stakes but headteacher have pupils interests at heart, first and foremost and they want outcomes to be the best for them.”

Mr Parker said it there were a number of factors that could be having an impact, including pupil behaviour, growing issues around mental health and changes to make GCSEs more difficult, making them less accessible to some pupils.

The council reports says the main reason for permanent exclusion remains persistent disruptive behaviour, accounting for 44 of the 78 cases while 17 were prompted by verbal or physical threats. One exclusion was due to drugs or alcohol.