A CONTROVERSIAL anti-abortion group has carried out dozens of school visits over the last five years, and has been publicly endorsed by several Scottish teachers, an investigation by The Herald can reveal.

Figures show that the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has visited schools in at least eight of Scotland’s council areas.

The organisation, which has opposed same-sex marriage and the move to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, was recently reported to have received tens of thousands of dollars from supporters in the USA whose identities have been hidden.

Material promoting the SPUC was also recently pulled from the popular BBC Bitesize study support website.

Critics have raised ‘grave concerns’ about the visits and called on councils to ‘set out their rationale for facilitating’ them and demanded that all children’s rights be respected.

The Herald asked all councils to confirm whether or not the SPUC had visited their schools since August 2017.

Glasgow City Council revealed that SPUC representatives visited one school - St Paul’s High School - 33 times since 2017.

Three further Glasgow schools – All Saints Secondary, St Mungo’s Academy, and Notre Dame High School – each received one visit from the SPUC.

Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Highland, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire councils also confirmed that the SPUC has visited schools since 2017.

Some schools were visited for several days at a time and on multiple occasions over that period.

Turnbull High School in Bishopbriggs received at least 25 visits, while St John’s High School in Dundee allowed nine visits.

The total number of visits to schools in North Lanarkshire is not known as dates have not been recorded, but four separate schools have received visits from the SPUC over a number of years.

During these events, SPUC representatives talked to pupils about issues such as abortion and euthanasia, but other sessions focused on topics including embryology.

The SPUC also delivered sessions on ‘Relationships’ which, according to material released by East Dunbartonshire council, covers “sexual relationships, sexual health and the emotional and social elements of sexual relationships and consent.”

Highland council confirmed that there is “a SPUC Primary 7 group at one school in The Highland Council area” and that this is “supported by the SPUC education group.”

The school in question received a visit from the SPUC in February 2022 which was recorded as “Intro to Tiny Feet club”.

A primary school in Dundee was also recorded as having at least one visit on the topic of ‘Tiny Feet’ during the 2020/2021 school year.

Resources uncovered by the investigation show that comments from Scottish schools are also being used as testimonials in SPUC promotional material.

A brochure on school presentations and workshops quotes staff from four different secondary schools: St Peter the Apostle High School in Clydebank, St Andrew’s and St Bride’s High School in South Lanarkshire, and both St Ninian’s High School and Turnbull High School in East Dunbartonshire.

Comments include praise for giving pupils a ‘clear pro-life message’ , while another was grateful that the speaker could ‘endorse and improve upon what we are to do as teachers’.

Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said:“Sex and relationships education is an important element of a child’s right to an education in terms of Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

"It also supports children’s rights to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse in terms of Articles 19 and 34, and to seek and receive information in terms of Article 13.

“Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) lessons, particularly those on sensitive issues that relate to rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights must be rights-based and delivered by trained professionals in an age-appropriate, sensitive and objective manner.

“Local authorities and the Scottish Government, which has overall responsibility, must ensure that the content of sessions provided by external organisations are rights-based and consistent with the principles and approach of the curriculum for excellence.”

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, said they had ‘grave concerns’. about the repeated visits of SPUC to schools in Scotland.

“There is a huge difference between schools objectively presenting differing viewpoints, and repeatedly inviting in groups that hold anti-abortion views.,” he said.

A SPUC spokesperson said: “Information provided in schools should be based on robust evidence and expertise.

“Teachers or medical professionals who do not deal with particular issues on a regular basis may benefit from the support of those who have such familiarity with a topic. SPUC provides such support and does so always under the approval and supervision of the teachers who invite us into their classrooms.

“The language of the Tiny Feet pack is intended to be sensitive and appropriate to the age of pupils who may use it. It has been created using the expertise of many teachers and academics to ensure it is accurate.”

“Any suggestions for improvements to the way topics are described or how any information is presented are always welcome for consideration. A recent updating of the pack is about to go to print based on such suggestions.

“The pack is in no way aimed at dealing with abortion but simply an objective tool for imparting the truth about the development of human life in the womb.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said they believed all women in Scotland should be able to access timely abortion care without judgement ‘within the limits of the law.’

“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring all pupils receive high quality relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education.

“Whilst it is for councils and schools to decide how to deliver RSHP education – including abortion - this should always be factual and presented in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law,” she said.

A Glasgow City council spokeswoman said headteachers were given discretionary powers regarding the appropriateness and regularity of school visits by outside organisations. “We trust their devolved decision-making judgements in these matters,” she said.

“SPUC Scotland is a registered charity and therefore, considered an appropriate partner for schools to work with. Free speech is a key tenet of our curriculum and it’s important our young people are given the opportunity to hear different perspectives from outside organisations.

“We trust our head teachers to ensure contributions reflect the values, ethos and ambitions of the school and the wider educational curriculum.

Ann Davie, Depute Chief Executive of East Dunbartonshire council said: “Visits to schools by external organisations give young people an opportunity to discuss and debate a range of real-world subjects, as an extension of the curriculum.

“Where sensitive and challenging life issues are discussed, it is done in a supportive environment with pupils encouraged to seek additional help, support or information if they require it.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Willie Rennie MSP: said schools needed to be careful about who they allowed in to speak to pupils.

“Information on pregnancy and abortion should come from qualified teachers or medical professionals,” he said.

“At the very least there should be broader representation from a wider range of groups with a range of perspectives on any visit.

“Otherwise there is a real risk that pupils come out of these sessions with a less useful and realistic perspective on the world than they went in with.

“Local authorities need to set out what their rationale is for facilitating these visits and then there needs to be a proper public debate about whether such activities have any place in Scottish schools.”

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Humanist Society of Scotland, said they believed in bodily autonomy, including access to safe and legal abortion for women who do not wish to be pregnant.

“We create age appropriate materials for high schools that explain humanists views on ethics issues such as abortion, in line with the RMPS curriculum,” he said.

“Despite our firm belief in a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, we have not (and would never) run pro-abortion clubs for school children. To do so would be inappropriate and would not respect young people’s rights.”

He said there was a ‘huge difference’ between schools objectively presenting differing viewpoints and repeatedly inviting in groups that hold anti-abortion views.

“And most importantly leave no space for children and young people to develop critical thinking skills and reach their own conclusions,” he added.

“We have grave concerns about the repeated visits of SPUC to schools in Scotland, their funding of anti-abortion clubs for primary school aged children, and the vocal support of some educators for this group. We fully support the Liberal Democrats’ call for the local councils in Scotland involved in these allegations to provide further explanation.”