Weapon-wielding teens, booze, bullying and drugs contributed to children being kicked out of Cumbria’s classrooms thousands of times in just a year, we can reveal.

Extreme and potentially criminal behaviour in schools is reflected in shock statistics showing pupils were suspended on more than 3,300 occasions in 2020-21.

Most suspensions saw children temporarily removed from secondary schools – but primary-age youngsters were suspended 345 times, along with four special school students.

That year, there were also 48 permanent exclusions, five involving children aged 11 or under.

Persistent disruptive behaviour was the most common cause for both suspensions and exclusions, followed by physical and verbal abuse.

However, on 160 occasions pupils were kicked out over incidents involving drugs or alcohol.

And there were 56 suspensions and three permanent exclusions linked to using or threatening to use offensive weapons or other “prohibited” items.

Our analysis of Department for Education figures also uncovered 28 suspensions linked to sexual misconduct – two involving primary pupils.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said such extreme behaviours were rare and often involved children with complex problems.

Calling on the Government to do more to ensure schools have the capacity to identify and support children before their behaviour spirals to exclusion, she said schools are not immune to problems occurring in wider society.

She added: “They have in place very clear behaviour policies and sanctions, and they educate pupils about these matters through their curriculum, assemblies and visiting speakers.

“Such extreme behaviour may often involve pupils who have complex problems and, while schools endeavour to identify and provide appropriate support to young people before their behaviour reaches this point, their capacity to do so is constrained by years of government underfunding of the education system.

“The government must make more resources available for the provision of specialist and pastoral support.”

Ms McCulloch also said there should be more focus on improving the consistency of education for excluded children.

A DfE spokeswoman said exclusion is only used as a last resort and does not mean exclusion from education.

She added: “Permanent exclusions are rare but a necessary way of managing behaviour so that all pupils can learn in a calm, safe and supportive environment.”

Government taskforces have been established to keep pupils at risk of crime or exploitation engaged in education.

The latest figures reflect the first year of the coronavirus pandemic and cover periods of school lockdowns.