TORY plans to create military cadet units in state schools in Scotland's most deprived areas have been attacked as an attempt to recruit vulnerable children as British Army 'cannon fodder'.

Leaked correspondence obtained by the Sunday Herald shows defence minister Julian Brazier urged the Scottish Government to embrace in-school cadet units. A senior SNP source branded the plan a "cannon fodder scheme" and said it would not go ahead.

With the army and reserve forces struggling for recruits, the Tory government has launched a £50m Cadet Expansion Programme (CEP) to establish 500 school cadet units across the UK by 2020, with schools in “less affluent” areas being prioritised.

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, said its members would also oppose anything that smacked of the armed forces trying to recruit within schools.

With around 100 units recently established in England, and many more already in place in private schools, the UK government needs 145 more state cadet units to hit its target.

It has now turned its attention to Scotland’s 360 secondaries to help make up the numbers.

Critics say such schemes amount to a backdoor recruitment drive by the armed forces, with young children drawn in by a sense of adventure, but with no understanding of the risks of combat.

In 2008, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Children urged the UK to rethink its “active” recruitment of children and avoid specifically targeting children of low-income families.

A senior SNP government source said: “There’s no way we’re having this cannon fodder scheme in schools. It’s back to the days of General Wolfe and ‘No great mischief if they fall’.”

Wolfe, an 18th century British officer, infamously urged using Highlanders in America as they were “hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall”.

According to the Ministry of Defence, there are around 43,000 cadets in the Combined Cadet Force that operates in English state schools and some Scottish private ones.

Open to pupils aged 13 to 18, it is based on a partnership between schools, adult volunteers and the MoD, with the latter providing uniforms, weapons and ammunition, remuneration and training and volunteers, and access to military facilities, transport, stores and equipment.

Brazier, whose is responsible for armed forces recruitment, told SNP children’s minister Aileen Campbell in his November letter: “The next phase of [CEP] expansion will be delivered through a targeted approach, prioritising schools in areas of high deprivation.

“I believe that the cadet experience needs no ‘sell’ as such, as it provides immense value both to cadets and adult volunteers. It achieves this by providing young people with access to challenging military-themed activities that help them exercise responsibility and leadership in a disciplined environment, developing self-confidence, resilience, and other key life skills.”

Inviting Campbell to join “this important initiative” Brazier said more cadet units in schools would provide opportunities for young people, “especially in less affluent areas”.

Campbell’s reply, sent last week, was decidedly cool towards the idea.

She said the government welcomed any extra funding for education, and felt cadet forces in local communities helped improve the skills and abilities of young people.

However, she pointedly reminded Brazier education and youth work were “fully devolved”.

She wrote: “In Scotland, there is no tradition of cadet units within state schools. Community based Army Cadet units work closely with local schools and education authorities to support Curriculum for Excellence. This linkage is unique to Scotland.

“This approach, while building confidence, resilience and respect for others, does not involve the creation of a cadet unit in a school.”

She said she wanted Scotland’s share of the extra £50m used “flexibly to support Scottish approaches and practices”, and suggested government officials keep talking meantime.

SNP MSP Chic Brodie said: “This is an outrageous suggestion from the Tory government, who are seeking to exploit some of Scotland’s poorest communities to recruit young men and women into the armed forces.

“I have the utmost respect for our armed forces and the difficult and dangerous jobs they do. However, the decision to join up is one for young people and their parents to make in the full knowledge of the facts and should not be one that our schools are influencing."

An EIS spokesman said: “There have already been concerns before about large numbers of armed forces visits to schools in areas of deprivation. This [cadet units] is not something our members are looking to have implemented in Scotland’s schools. There would be a fair degree of concern among the teaching profession if we were to go down this route.”

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said cadet programmes were “hugely important” and insisted there was no problem having cadet units in schools, regardless of the affluence of the local area.

She said: “They are very popular and do fantastic work and the SNP should not turn away from them based on an image from the past. The Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are very sensitive to the charge of recruitment in schools, and are very careful about how they inform children about what they do.”

The Scottish Government said it didn’t comment on leaked documents.