Police chiefs have written to Prime Minister Theresa May, warning that a “broken” school exclusion system is linked to a surge in knife crime.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan co-signed the letter, which calls for an end to unofficial “off-rolling” exclusions.
Teachers’ unions responded by saying more funding is needed to help vulnerable pupils and that tackling knife crime must go “much further than laying the blame at the door of school exclusions”.
The letter said: “Clearly, the way the education system deals with excluded young people is broken.
“It cannot be right that so many of those who have committed offences have been excluded from school or were outside of mainstream education.
“That is why the time has come to act urgently. In the first instance, local authorities need powers and responsibilities over all school exclusions.”
The letter, signed by six Police and Crime Commissioners in England and one in Wales, follows a sharp rise in exclusions in London and the West Midlands – two areas worst-hit by knife violence.
Figures show that permanent exclusions in England increased by 56% between 2013-14 and 2016-17.
There was a 40% rise in London and 62% rise in the West Midlands during that period, according to Department for Education data.
The letter adds: “There is significant variation by schools as to what will result in exclusion, with many excluded pupils moving between local authority areas and also out of their cities.
“The practice of off-rolling must be outlawed.”
Some schools have been accused of off-rolling – removing difficult-to-teach pupils from registers – to boost their average exam results.
In December last year, Ofsted found thousands of children “disappearing” from school rolls around GCSE exam times between January 2016 and January 2017.
The Government is also being urged to increase funding for schools to improve early intervention for children at risk of exclusion.
“Our schools are facing significant funding pressures and many interventions for our most vulnerable children are being cut. This cannot be right and schools must have the necessary resources to deliver good interventions and support to those at risk of exclusion,” the letter says.
“We are investing in our policing as much as the Government will allow us to do, plus further investing in early intervention projects across our regions.
“Yet so many of the causes of violent crime are out of our control, but in the hands of the Government.
“That is why it is high time the Government matched our ambitions and showed clear leadership on this issue.”
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said last week that knife crime was a “national emergency”, with excluded children the most likely to be involved.
He said: “We must do something about that exclusion of children because those children are on almost an immediate path into crime and into violence.”
Commissioners for the West Midlands, South Yorkshire, Humberside, Northumbria, West Yorkshire, Leicestershire and South Wales signed the letter.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The causes and not just the symptoms need to be urgently looked at to ensure that it is tackled effectively.
“This clearly means going much further than laying the blame at the door of school exclusions.”
She called for more funding for pupils at risk of exclusion, adding: “Schools, always reluctantly, sometimes have to exclude pupils.
“However the illegal off-rolling of pupils, who too often drop through the system with no adequate safety net to catch them, cannot be justified.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT union for leaders in schools, said it agreed “with much of this letter”.
But he said “it would be wrong to conflate off-rolling, exclusions and knife-crime”, adding: “A school’s first duty is the safety of its students, and so school leaders need to retain the autonomy to exclude a violent pupil in order to keep everyone else safe.”