A ROW has broken out after it emerged that nearly one third of councils are using education budgets to help pay for police officers in schools.

In three local authorities, cash earmarked for closing the attainment gap between children in poorer and wealthier areas, has been used to fund “campus” officers.

Police are carrying out a wide variety of roles in secondary schools, including delivering “personal and social education” (PSE) to pupils, as well as guidance support.

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said he feared the policy would make pupils feel like “suspects” at school.

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A spokesperson for the Education Institute of Scotland, the largest teachers’ trade union in the country, said: "While campus police officers can contribute positively to school communities, the funding for such initiatives should not come from already hard-pressed education budgets.”

Critics of the SNP Government have hit out at what they believe has been ungenerous financial settlements for local government, which funds schools.

A briefing by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) from 2018 found that more than £400 million of spending had been axed from the education system since the start of the decade. Teacher numbers have fallen since the SNP administration came to power in 2007 and the Government is facing criticism over cuts in school subject choices.

One of the ways the Government has tried to direct more resources to schools has been through its Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) scheme, aimed at reducing the poverty-related attainment gap. However, questions were raised last year over the practice of schools using this pot of money to pay for police officers on their premises.

John Butcher, at that point Executive Director of Education at North Ayrshire Council, told MSPs at a Holyrood committee that this use of resources helped break down “some of the barriers between Police Scotland and local authorities and children and young people”.

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Martin Canavan, Policy Officer at the Aberlour Child Care Trust, disagreed at the time: “We’re not entirely convinced as an organisation in terms of the work that we do ... that campus police officers are a particularly good use of PEF funding.

“That’s not to say there isn’t a role for police in schools ... but when it’s uniformed police officers patrolling school campuses we’re not entirely sure that’s an appropriate use of PEF funding.”

Weeks later, the EIS agreed to embark on an investigation into the full extent of campus police and how the officers are funded.

After tabling a freedom of information request to all 32 councils, the EIS found that 43.8% of all councils – 14 – confirmed that campus police are deployed in their schools.

Some fell into a broader category of school liaison officers, youth engagement and community police officers, which are not funded by councils.

However, nine of the 14 councils responded by saying that they partially-funded the operation of campus police.

The EIS survey noted that the funding from schools or councils varied from 50% of the cost of an officer, to some authorities specifying that they pay for “one or two”.

According to the research, three education authorities paid for campus police in part through their PEF funding.

The union report concluded: “Many education authorities in Scotland have entered into arrangements with Police Scotland to have Campus Police Officers that are based on all or most of the authority’s secondary school premises. In most cases, the education authority or schools contribute to the funding of Campus Police Officers.”

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It added that the officers have a “wide ranging” role in schools, such as delivering Personal and Social Education to pupils.

One example cited was Falkirk Council, which in 2016 agreed a proposal for its children’s services department to pay Police Scotland for two officers.

The role of the “school-based officers” includes assisting in reducing anti-social behaviour and youth crime, promoting a positive image of the of the force, and educating members of the community about the “consequences of actions”.

South Ayrshire council funds eight campus officers – 50% of their salaries – at a cost of £156,988 a year.

Greer said: “The PEF is supposed to help schools tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, but a lack of transparency means it is almost impossible to assess its impact. Paying for police officers on campus doesn’t reduce inequality but it could make pupils feel like suspects, all while using money which could have been put towards additional teaching staff, breakfast clubs or other measures which actually do help close the attainment gap.”

An EIS spokesperson added: “The survey findings that PEF funding is being used in some instances to support these initiatives does raise concerns which we will be seeking talks about at local authority level.”

A spokesperson for council umbrella group Cosla said the issue of campus police is for individual schools to determine.