School children from poor families are more than four times likely to get excluded compared to those from better-off households in Oxfordshire.

Data from the Department for Education showed Oxfordshire students eligible for free school meals were excluded 1,525 times during the 2019-20 academic year. Of these, 17 were permanent and 1,508 were temporary.

It meant there were 15.1 exclusions for every 100 children entitled to the meals, as compared to 3.5 per cent for those not entitled to them.

The figures cover the 293 state-funded secondary, primary and special schools in Oxfordshire.

It was a similar picture across England, with the exclusion rate for children from poorer households at 9.5%, compared to 2.6% for those from better-off families.

Just for Kids Law, a charity that provides help to families on legal processes, said exclusions worsened the situation for disadvantaged children, putting them further behind on their education and potentially leading them into crime.

They have called for a reform of the “deeply flawed” education system, suggesting that children are getting into trouble because families cannot afford uniforms or equipment, or struggling to cope without food.

Louise King, director of policy and campaigns, said: "Too often we see children who have been excluded because of circumstances beyond their control – that includes children whose families have struggled to pay for the correct uniform and equipment, who have faced racial discrimination, and who are coping with the impact of going without essentials like food and heating.

"This can leave children feeling like they’ve been treated unfairly, pushing them further away from school and their learning."

She has called on the Government to provide better financial support to families, and put behavioural support in place at schools to give children an opportunity to challenge "unfair decisions" on exclusions.

"The Government needs to urgently reform the deeply flawed school exclusions system," she added.

The National Association for Headteachers said schools were finding it "increasingly hard" to access support for vulnerable pupils, partly because of funding cuts to services such as behaviour support teams.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at the union, said: "Schools play a vital role in supporting children in this area but they can’t do it on their own."

Overall, Oxfordshire schools excluded pupils 4,498 times in 2019-20 – 44 of which were permanent, and 4,454 temporary.

The figures for the academic year are not comparable to the previous year due to school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, in the autumn term, before schools were closed as part of a national lockdown, there were 2,605 exclusions, up significantly from 1,846 in the same term of the 2018-19 academic year.

Across England, the number of exclusions increased by 13% year-on-year to 181,579 in the 2019-20 autumn term.

A spokesperson from the Department for Education said: “Our guidance for schools is clear that staff should consider any underlying causes of poor behaviour before taking the decision to permanently exclude, and these decisions must be lawful, reasonable and fair."