There has been a sharp rise in the number of children being expelled from Kent schools – the majority of which have special needs.
Pupils being given the boot has jumped from 43 in 2018-19 to 68 in 2022-23 – an increase of 58%.
The figures were released in Kent County Council (KCC) papers, which revealed schoolchildren are being expelled for persistent disruptive behaviour and assaults on adults or other students.
Peter Read, a former head teacher and education expert, warned of the long-term cost to society of the "tough love" approach to tackle the problem.
Mr Read said: "We have now got a generation of children that through Covid-19 seem to have lost the importance of education and developed all sorts of bad behaviours.
"The pandemic broke the pattern of regular schooling and that breakage has caused a worrying decline in behaviour across the board.
"Schools are now having to work much harder in keeping their pupils under control. Some manage that better than others but generally, schools have to go the extra mile.
“But adopting a 'tough love' style of behaviour management does not work in Kent."
Of the 68 expelled in 2022-23, 53 were at secondaries and 15 at primary school. Roughly half of the pupils had special educational needs (SEN) or were on education health and care plans (ECHP).
Parents recently protested outside KCC’s headquarters at County Hall, Maidstone, demanding changes to special needs provision within schools, saying the current system was not equipped to deal with their needs.
Despite the sharp rise in expulsions, however, the county's expulsion levels remain lower than the national average.
Mr Read claims the problems in schools have been compounded, in part, by teacher industrial action.
KCC papers revealed: “More than half of pupils permanently excluded this academic year to date have SEN support or an EHCP, with more than 80% of all permanent exclusions attributed to persistent disruptive behaviour, or physical assault against an adult or another pupil.”
All these factors have contributed to a "soaring rate of mental health conditions amongst young people".
He added: "I am certainly not surprised by the increase in cases last year and, whilst concerned about the higher proportion of children with SEN that have been expelled, can understand some schools reaching the last resort earlier whereas they might have persevered in previous years."
He concedes it is a difficult line to tread between not pursuing a "tough love " approach, being supportive and still sanctioning poor conduct.
Mr Read said: "Kent introduced the concept of a ‘managed move’ all those years ago, with pupils being moved to another school to avoid the stigma of expulsion and a child with nowhere to go.
"A good Specialist Resource Provision (Pupil Referral Unit) may alternatively salvage the child by giving them a second chance, but please make no mistake, for every young person who is completely rejected by the system, the cost to society in the long term will be so much greater."
Many educationalists acknowledge the issues surrounding parents working from home and attendance and behaviour.
Mr Read added: "There is a considerable onus on the parents but this has become an issue where they work from home. They are not emphasising the importance of education – it is a huge problem.”
The Department for Education has a clear policy on what is expected of children in school and how sanctions might be applied.
These can range from a verbal warning to a loss of privileges or detention.
But the policy warns: “In the most serious of cases, the school has the power to suspend or permanently exclude your child.”