SCOTTISH children are at risk of hearing Chinese "propaganda" in schools, a human rights group has warned.

Free Tibet has accused councils of "nodding through" deals putting teachers controlled by China's ruling regime in to classrooms.

The campaign group believes cash-strapped local authorities unquestioningly accepted Chinese money - and influence - to pay for and carry out teaching they could not otherwise afford as part of so-called Confucius Classrooms.

It now fears a "whitewash" of serious issues in China, such as its continued occupation of Tibet.

Free Tibet has used Freedom of Information legislation to try and find evidence of any council having full scrutiny or debate about the impact of allowing teachers who toe party lines in to classrooms.

A spokesman said: "When the government of China is facilitating and paying for that, alarm bells should ring.

"Before we let an undemocratic, authoritarian, human rights-abusing regime into our classrooms to teach our children about the country it rules over, tough questions have to be asked.

"There needs to be proper, democratic scrutiny of a policy like that - instead, Scottish councils seem to have nodded it through with their eyes half-closed.

"There's almost no evidence from the information Free Tibet has received from councils of proper debate, consultation or oversight of the decision to open Confucius Classrooms in their schools.

"Nor, apparently, has there been debate about councils taking money from China's government and the conflict of interest that could represent. That debate needs to happen now."

Communist rulers in Beijing increasingly use funding for language lessons to boost their image, and "soft power" - overseas.

They have admitted they expect teachers - who they recruit and control - to toe the party line. This has led to some education authorities to either reject their advances or, like the school board in Toronto, Canada, pull out of deals.

Five universities around the world, concerned at what they see as a threat to academic freedom, have also shut so-called Confucius Institutes on their campuses.

Others universities and school authorities around the world have weighed up the issues and backed the institutes but in public debates almost entirely absent in Scotland.

Free Tibet is not attacking the teaching of Chinese - or educators who do so. In fact, it thinks Tibetans would benefit from more people from the democratic West understanding China and Chinese.

The group has offered to go to Scottish schools to talk about how the Chinese regime behaves in Tibet.

The spokesman said stressed no school wanted "to provide a platform for Chinese government propaganda". But he added: "There is a real risk of that happening by default unless schools take active steps to prevent it."

Scotland has 16 school "hubs" for Confucius Classrooms. They have 29 teachers provided by Chinese state agency Hanban.

This compares with just six native-language assistants in the whole of Scotland for German, the most spoken language in the European Union. The Confucius Classrooms are co-ordinated by the Confucius Institute for Scottish Schools or CISS, which is half-funded by China and based at Strathclyde University.

Some 20,000 children are said to have been exposed to some kind of Chinese teaching, mostly basic awareness classes. Around 100 people sat a higher in Chinese last year. Around 1000 sat German.

One of Scotland's leading language teaching experts, Dan Tierney of Strathclyde University, recently branded Chinese teaching as "less relevant" than basic European languages, such as German.

A spokesman for Strathclyde University: "The work of the Confucius Institute for Scotland's Schools promotes the learning of Mandarin in Scotland's schools and creates opportunities for children and young people to learn a language that is spoken by more than 1.3 billion people world-wide."

Glasgow City Council, which is host to a Confucius "hub", said it would respond to Free Tibet.