Thousands of very young children are being excluded from primary schools for physically attacking pupils and teachers, research by The Times shows.
It exposes the extent to which children of infant-school age are being expelled or suspended, even though the tactic is more commonly associated with uncontrollable teenagers.
The Times survey of 25 local authorities found that almost 4,000 primary school children had been excluded for fixed periods in 2007-08.
This is the national equivalent to 25,128, a 6 per cent increase on last year, if extrapolated to cover the whole of England. Over the same period the primary school population fell by almost 20,000, so the real rise is 6.7 per cent.
More than three quarters of those who gave reasons said that one of the biggest causes of exclusion was the child physically assaulting another pupil. Another main reason was attacking a teacher.
Our findings underline national figures, which show temporary exclusions in primary schools have risen by 10 per cent in three years, from 41,300 in 2004 to 45,730 in 2007, because staff could not cope with their threatening and disruptive behaviour.
More than 1,200 of the fixed-term exclusions in 2007 involved children aged 4 and under. Another 12,000 were under the age of 8.
Our survey paints a picture of teachers struggling to deal with violence from ever-younger children, some of whom in effect drop out of the education system before reaching secondary school.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: Theres a small and growing group of very young children creating very real problems, over whom parents seem to have no control. Its a relatively new phenomenon for primary schools. They are reporting that groups of parents have real problems with their young children.
Professor Carl Parsons, who has researched primary school exclusions for 16 years, said that children may be picking up bad behaviour younger. The rise in fixed-term exclusions could be because there are more socially troubled families who are more isolated and less able to provide guidance and support for children.
Many primary schools do not have the resources to deal with aggressive children in any other way, as they lack staff to offer one-to-one teaching and do not have on-call child psychiatrists.