SCHOOLS in St Helens recorded several suspensions for racial abuse last year, new figures show.

The Victim Support charity said schools should be encouraging pupils to develop skills to challenge racism when they see it, so those being targeted feel supported by their peers.

Department for Education figures show there were seven suspensions at St Helens schools for racial abuse during the 2022-23 spring term – in line with the same period the year before.

Nationally, there were 3,779 suspensions for racial abuse – a 21% rise from spring 2021-22.

The figures also show a substantial increase compared to spring term in 2018-19, before the pandemic, when there were 1,690 such temporary exclusions. In St Helens schools, pupils were suspended on four occasions during this period.

Becca Rosenthal, hate crime lead at Victim Support, said schools are working harder to protect young people impacted by racial hate.

“So, this increase in suspensions and exclusions could be an indicator that schools are clamping down on this behaviour, rather than reflecting an actual rise in racist abuse.”

She added: “Racist abuse has a devastating impact on young people, affecting their mental health and overall wellbeing.

“It can cause the breakdown of friendships and disrupt children’s learning, making victims unwilling to come to school. It’s vital that schools and youth services have the tools to tackle racist abuse and staff are confident in having challenging conversations.”

Across the country, 20 pupils had to look for a new school after being permanently excluded for racial abuse – none of them in St Helens.

There was a total of 1,132 temporary suspensions in the area – a 48% increase compared to the year before. On average, those suspended missed three days from school.

Pupils were also suspended for bullying 16 times.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said these cases are linked to wider societal issues such as access to hateful and prejudiced online content.

He said: “There is a wider issue about behaviour in general which we believe is linked to factors such as the erosion in local support services for families and children and unmet special educational needs.

“More investment is needed in these areas as well as more regulation to prevent hateful online content.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Racism, discrimination and violent behaviour have no place in our schools, nor in society.

“The Government is very clear it backs head teachers to use exclusions where required, so they can provide calm, safe, and supportive environments for children to learn in.

“We are providing targeted support to schools to help improve behaviour, attendance and reduce the risk of exclusions with an investment of £10 million in our Behaviour Hubs programme, and our mental health teams who will reach at least 50% of pupils by 2025.”