By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter
There has been an increase in pupils suspended five and 10 times per year
Disruptive pupils are being given repeat suspensions rather than being permanently excluded from England's schools, official figures suggest.
The number of pupils suspended 10 times or more in a year more than doubled between 2004 and 2007, while permanent exclusions fell by 13%.
The Tories, who revealed the figures, say it is because head teachers' hands are tied over long-term exclusions.
The government says that schools are reducing low-level disruption.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families figures show that the number of permanent exclusions fell 13% from 9,990 to 8,680 over the four years to 2007.
At the same time the number of pupils given repeat suspensions grew markedly.
The number of those given five or more fixed-term exclusions in a year increased by 50% from 9,090 to 14,850.
While the number of those excluded on 10 occasions or more in a single year increased two and a half times from 310 to 830.
And some 17,400 more pupils were suspended more than once in the year 2006-07 than in 2003-04, when 71,370 pupils were excluded for a fixed term.
Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb, who highlighted the figures, said senior teaching staff were being hampered by parents' right to challenge decisions through an independent appeals panel.
He said: "Very often those appeal panels overturn these expulsions and these children return back to the schools".
He added: "The huge growth in repeat suspensions is a result of the government tying the hands of head teachers to exclude.
"The government's approach to discipline in schools is a complete mess.
"Repeatedly suspending disruptive children instead of excluding them means they don't get the specialist help they need to get back on the straight and narrow.
"Heads need to be free to exclude disruptive and violent pupils without being second guessed or penalised for doing so."
Ministers have repeatedly signalled to schools that they want to see permanent exclusion rates falling.
In the early years of the Labour government, targets to reduce the number of permanent exclusions were set, but later dropped.
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In recent years, however, that pressure has eased somewhat with head teachers being given the clear statutory power in 2007 to exclude pupils where they believe it to be necessary.
A spokesman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families said the figures suggested more schools were using short suspensions as a way of clamping down on misbehaviour before it escalates into something that requires a permanent expulsion.
"Head teachers have our full support to permanently exclude pupils where their behaviour warrants it and we trust their judgement to decide what sanctions will work best for the individuals and the school.
"We have reinforced this by giving teachers statutory powers to impose disciplinary sanctions on badly-behaved pupils.
"Contrary to popular myth permanent exclusions are not routinely overturned." She added that only 100 pupils mounted successful appeals against their exclusion in 2006-07 This was 1.1% of all permanent exclusions this year.
Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The figures do seem to be symptomatic of overly scrupulous efforts to avoid permanent exclusions which of course nobody wants, but in some cases things drag on for too long before something is done about the situation."
He added that it was hard to imagine that a child being excluded 10 or even five times in a single year was a satisfactory situation for anybody.
"Clearly what's needed there is a better referral system so the child in question can have some very intensive work with them.
"In a way it would be better to permanently exclude them so this can happen," Mr Ward added.
But general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Mick Brookes said a 13% drop in the number of permanent exclusions was a positive step.
"Nobody wants a permanent exclusion. And if we are finding other ways to deal with the problem providing that's not damaging other children's education then that is a good thing."