The schools with the highest expulsion rates in Hawke's Bay have been revealed, and student drug use is being blamed for spikes in the numbers.

Ten schools in the region expelled students between 2013 and 2017 according to documents released to Hawke's Bay Today under the Official Information Act.

Napier Boys' High School recorded 11 expulsions in 2015, the highest of any school for any of the four years of data.

Wairoa College, Te Aute College, Taradale High School, Tamatea High School, St John's College, Lindisfarne College, Karamu High School, Hukarere College, Hastings Boys' High School were the only other schools that expelled a student in the past four years. None expelled more than five in a year.

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NBHS principal Matt Bertram, who was not headmaster at the time, said the 2015 expulsion rate at the school was "unusually high".

He said there was an incident in March of that year involving drugs which resulted in about seven expulsions.

The number of expulsions or stand downs a schools had was not an indication of how good or bad they are. It was a case of different leaders reacting differently to situations that arose at school, Bertram said.

The most important thing for all principals was not to make an expulsion decision in the heat of the moment, he said.

"You are dealing with young people's lives and futures."

Most Hawke's Bay school expulsions were for drug use, the OIA revealed.

Harmful or dangerous behaviour, physical assault on other students and theft and verbal assault on staff were also used as reasons for expulsion, the statistics showed.

Ministry of Education spokeswoman Katrina Casey said expulsion decisions were made by principals and boards of trustees and should only be for "the most serious cases".

The figures also revealed in the past four years 705 Hawke's Bay students were suspended from school.

More than 200 took part in illegal activity. Of those, 110 were aged 10-14 and 91 were over 15.

Taradale High School principal and Hawke's Bay Secondary Principals' Association chairman Stephen Hensman said the number might seem high, but it was a small minority in a region of more than 30,000 students.

"Stand downs and suspensions exist in law because sometimes, despite using every trick in the wise teacher's book, some students continue to disrupt learning, or engage in anti-social or dangerous behaviours," Hensman said.

He said there were alternative education providers in Hawke's Bay that took in excluded teenagers and worked effectively with them.

"Many of these excluded young people achieve NCEA Level 2 at alternative education, so whilst schools are always sad to reach the point of excluding a student, we don't wash our hands of them.

"We work hard to ensure they have something meaningful to go onto, where they can reach success."

St John's College principal Paul Melloy said physical assaults and drug use in particular "cannot be tolerated or society suffers".

"The high majority of our students understand this and respect the safe environment these rules protect.

"At the same time, principals in Hawke's Bay regularly contact each other, to offer second-chance places to students whom they feel would benefit from another chance or a different environment at another school."

Tamatea High School principal Robin Fabish said schools "bend over backwards to try everything we can to use exclusion or expulsion as an absolute last resort".

"If the kid is out of education, then the potential cost to society for someone who has no qualifications is huge."

Stand down, suspension, expulsion or exclusion?

The first step to expulsion is suspension, the formal removal of a student from school.

It's a more significant step than a stand down, which can last no more than five school days in a term, or 10 days in a school year.

After the suspension, the board of trustees must decide the outcome of it at meeting within seven days.

The board can either lift the suspension without conditions, lift the suspension with reasonable conditions, extend the suspension with reasonable conditions for a reasonable period or exclude or expel the student.

If a student is under 16, a school may decide to exclude them, with the requirement they enrol elsewhere.

Only if the student is older than 16 does the board have the ability to expel them from the school, with no other requirement.