More than 2,000 four- and five-year-olds were excluded from school last year for committing acts of violence or disrupting lessons, according to figures published today.
The statistics add to growing evidence of poor and often violent behaviour creeping into the primary school classroom, with 89 children being excluded each day across the country as a result of assaults on either staff or other pupils.
Teachers' leaders blamed parents for failing to bring their children to school ready to learn, and allowing them access to violent computer games.
The figures, published by the Department for Education, show that 670 four-year-olds were excluded at least once in the school year 2010-11. In the case of five-year-olds, the figure was 1,470. Many of them were excluded at least twice over the course of the school year.
Boys were far more likely to be excluded than girls, the figures showed – 590 of the four-year-olds were boys, compared with just 80 girls.
Often the exclusions were for assaults on teachers or fellow pupils. The number of primary school suspensions for physical assaults on children rose from 9,030 to 9,160 in a year. For assaults on adults, the figures rose from 7,230 to 7,830.
A survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers revealed that two-thirds of teachers believed parents were failing to support schools in tackling poor behaviour. Chris Keates, its general secretary, said: "Parents must understand that their responsibility for their child's behaviour does not end at the school gate. Too many pupils come to school not ready to learn. Sending children to school on time with basic equipment and clear expectations of how they are expected to behave is a critical part of the job of all parents."
Earlier this year Alison Sherratt, junior vice-president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned that violent and addictive computer games were making young children more aggressive and luring them into a fantasy world. Overall, there were 5,080 permanent exclusions in the year and 271,980 fixed-term exclusions – falls of 11.5 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively.
Children on free school meals were four times more likely to be excluded, and pupils of black Caribbean origin nearly three times more likely than the average. Not a single Chinese pupil was permanently excluded.
Alison Ryan, education policy adviser at the ATL, warned that high rates of exclusion among these groups "needs to be tackled and the answer does not lie with schools alone".
She said: "ATL is concerned that the reduction in services such as Sure Start [for the under fives], the huge cuts in local services … will undermine this vital early and ongoing work."
Children's Commissioner Maggie Atkinson added that it was important "we get behind these statistics and find out why exclusions occur in order to further reduce such incidences".
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "One of the Government's key priorities is to improve behaviour in the classroom. We have given teachers more powers to ensure the balance of authority lies with the adult rather than the child and given headteachers more discretion about when to expel a persistently disruptive pupil."