Schools in Herefordshire excluded pupils for racist bullying on a dozen occasions last year, new figures reveal.

Anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate said a national rise in the number of exclusions due to racism is a concern, but that schools are clamping down on the behaviour.

Department for Education data shows Herefordshire's schools excluded students 12 times for racist abuse in 2018-19.

That was up from nine in the previous academic year.

All were fixed-term exclusions, also known as suspensions, where a pupil is temporarily removed. The figures include abuse by children at state-funded primary, secondary and special schools in the area.

It was a similar picture across the rest of England, where pupils were excluded for racist bullying on 4,900 occasions last year – a record high, and up from 4,300 in 2017-18.

Owen Jones, head of education at Hope Not Hate, said the number of additional racist abuse exclusions last year was "worrying".

However, he added: "From what we have seen, there is a much better concerted effort to clamp down and take it more seriously.

"The process of exclusion is fraught for everyone involved, but the tolerance for that behaviour is reducing.

"Students of colour are having more confidence to speak up. It's not just about the 'n' word, it's about comments made throughout the day which make students feel unwelcome."

Mr Jones said racist abuse is a particular concern in rural and coastal schools, which have mostly white student populations.

Angela Wright, education development lead at anti-hate crime charity Stop Hate UK, said targets for racist incidents are becoming increasingly younger.

"It is important to remember that behind every hate incident is an individual and family that are affected," she said.

She added that the charity has seen a desire among students to "make a change and call out racism", following the death of black American George Floyd while in police custody in May.

Overall, Herefordshire schools excluded pupils 1,020 times in 2018-19 – equivalent to 20 exclusions every week.

This was an increase of 4% on the previous year, when they handed out 982 exclusions.

The rise in total exclusions in Herefordshire reflects the trend across England, where the figure rose by 7% to 446,000.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, fears there will be further exclusions as a result of children struggling to adjust to being back at school after the coronavirus lockdown.

"Excluding a child makes them more vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs and less likely to leave education with the qualifications they need to succeed," she said.

A DfE spokesman said permanent exclusion should be a last resort.

He added: "We know that some pupils will return to school in September having experienced loss or adversity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which is why we have also provided guidance for school leaders on how to re-engage these pupils and create the right classroom environment to help them thrive."