A SCHOOL in Oxfordshire has resorted to permanent exclusion to punish a bully, for the first time in five years.

An unidentified secondary school expelled a pupil in the 2017-18 academic year, recording bullying as the main reason for the punishment.

It is the first time since 2012-13 that a school in the county has used expulsion to deal with bullying, and parents have raised concerns that teachers are taking a 'soft touch' approach.

The new Department for Education figures reveal there were also 53 bullying-related suspensions in Oxfordshire, up from 42 the previous year - a rise of 26 per cent.

Last month parents claimed their children were scared to go in after experiencing ‘horrific’ bullying at Southwold Primary School in Bicester.

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Clive Winstone, who was among them, has now taken his eight-year-old son out of the school after he was subjected to physical violence.

The father, who lives in Bicester, said: "The minute he stepped into the playground, he went into panic mode, because he saw the child who assaulted him.

"If you don't expel that child or do something about it, those children who have been bullied have to see that person every day."

He admitted his ideas to deal with the problem - including making bullies wear a different-coloured top so others know to steer clear - are 'extreme'.

Asked if more schools should use exclusions, he said it was a 'difficult' decision but that bullies should not be allowed to continue to torment others.

Mr Winstone said: "Everyone is scared nowadays to say or do anything.

"There is totally a soft touch approach.

"But what's going to happen if some day, if you let it carry on, some kid gets pushed into a wall and their head gets smashed?

"I would hate to be responsible for him not coming home one day. I have to protect my child - otherwise, it's like throwing a dice and gambling with his life."

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He said parents have a responsibility to discipline bad behaviour, but suspension can be a way of encouraging them to take action.

Mr Winstone said: "Parents will be involved in that they won't be able to go to work [if their child is home].

"The minute you start involving parents in the punishment is the minute they will say to their kid 'don't let this happen again.'"

The White Horse Federation, which runs the school, said Southwold takes anti-bullying procedures 'immensely seriously.'

Banbury Cake:

Councillor Hilary Hibbert-Biles presents the county council's anti-bullying charter to Chipping Norton School and St Mary’s Primary School representatives last year

One Oxford Mail reader, commenting on our website, said: "Schools never punish the bullies, just the victim when they respond.

"These cowards get away with it too much - nowadays schools are powerless to do much."

Another added: "The teachers know who the bullies are - suspend them.

"That'll hit the parents where it hurts most, their pockets, as they are forced to take time off work. That'll soon put an end to it."

Nationally, just 32 of 7,900 permanent expulsions in 2017-18 were due to bullying. The most common cause was persistent disruptive behaviour.

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Oxford Mail analysis of statistics shows that, between 2008 and 2018, the number of bullying-related exclusions in Oxfordshire has fluctuated from year to year.

There were just 19 in 2013-14, but 82 in 2011-12.

The average number across the period was 51.

Nick Smith, principal of Oxford Home Schooling, said some families are turning to home-schooling to escape bullies.

He said: "Anecdotally, nearly half of the parents who enrol their children with us list bullying among their reasons for doing so."

Oxfordshire County Council's guidance to schools states: "Exclusion, particularly permanent exclusion, should only be considered as a last resort."

Schools are encouraged to tackle the root of troublesome behaviour and deal with it proactively, rather than denying children access to education by kicking them out.

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Last year the county council drew up an anti-bullying charter, inviting schools to commit to 10 pledges to eliminate bullying.

So far, more than 70 schools have signed up.

Across the country, the national average number of exclusions for bullying dropped by 14 per cent in 2017-18.

Dr Smith added: "It is encouraging to see that in many areas the numbers of exclusions for bullying are decreasing.

"While this doesn’t necessarily mean that bullying is becoming less of an issue, it might suggest that schools are taking measures to deal with the problem, rather than just removing the children involved."

The most common reason for exclusions in Oxfordshire last year was persistent disruptive behaviour, which made up for 1,285 of the 4,560 in exclusions recorded.