CHILDREN in Cumbria lost almost 7,000 days of school due to exclusions.

Figures published by the department for education show that 3,552 pupils from primary and secondary schools were excluded either permanently or temporarily in 2017/18.

Judith Schafer, chairman of the Cumbrian Association of School Headteachers, said: "School leaders work within the statutory exclusions framework laid down by the Department for Education. The decision to exclude is never an easy one but the law on exclusions allows us to provide safe, happy and positive learning environments for all children."

The most common reason for exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour.

However drug and alcohol related exclusions feature in 128 out of 3,458 temporary exclusions and in 15 out 94 permanent ones.

Leigh Williams, CEO of Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service (CADAS), has warned that underfunding means schools struggle to do vital prevention work with children and young people.

She said: "Experimenting is a normal part of adolescence, taking risks is part of it and drug and alcohol are easily available. Funding cuts means you're reducing the great quality input of youth workers and teachers."

She added target groups who are at higher risk of drugs and alcohol misuse were looked after children, LGBT children, families of veterans and young people who are not in education or training.

Ms Williams said: "You get core work in schools which does include some work around drug and alcohol but prevention and education is key."

She added poor mental health and lack of education can lead young people to develop an addictive behaviour as a coping mechanism.

Other common reasons for temporary exclusions include verbal abuse and physical assaults on pupils.

The average length of exclusion per pupil in Cumbria goes from around 3.4 days to 4.5 days.

The total of days lost in 2017/18 due to exclusions is 6,868.

While permanent and temporary exclusions in Cumbria are below average for primary school pupils, they are above average for secondary school children.

A spokesman for Cumbria County Council, which is responsible for education in the region, said: "The decision to exclude a pupil is taken by schools alone, the county council has no role. Typically an exclusion is an action of last resort, following a process to resolve any issues causing problems.

"The county council is represented on the county Inclusion Panel. This is an independent panel of headteachers which considers appeals against exclusions. Around a third of exclusion decisions are overturned on appeal.

"The council works in partnership with the NHS, police and schools via the Children’s Trust Board at a strategic level to respond to issues around drug and alcohol misuse, but schools will take a the lead on addressing these issues with their own pupils."