THE SCOTTISH Government has been accused of branding children from disadvantaged backgrounds as “criminals” in a row over so-called Campus Cops. 

Recent research by the charity Aberlour found that nearly £2 million of Pupil Equity Funding had been used to pay for school-based police officers. 

Under the flagship scheme the money, which is issued directly to schools, with headteachers given full autonomy on how to spend it, is supposed to be used to try and help close the poverty-related attainment gap 
In parliament, LibDem education spokesman Willie Rennie asked for the evidence that funding campus cops would help achieve that.

He said: “The children’s charity Aberlour, who made the discovery, wants to know, what the evidence is that policing in schools will help children's learning. So where is the evidence?”

Eduction Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said it was wrong to say that campus cops were “policing in schools.” 

She added: “The schools know their learners best they are responsible for using the PEF to undertake the approach that they think will best support them to achieve their full potential.”

The minister gave the example of one programme in Fife, where the funding was used on a school holiday programme supporting vulnerable and at-risk children.

She said: “The school itself shows an improved attendance rate, early interventions in supporting children and families to avoid or limit criminal behaviour and very much improved community relations. 

“That is what happens when schools work with partners right across the community, including if they decide it's necessary and appropriate, with the police.”

Mr Rennie said the minister had failed to provide evidence that policing in schools will help close the poverty-related attainment gap.

He added: “And what a slur on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, they have been branded by their own government as criminals before they have even had their first lesson.

"It's the money that's supposed to follow the child, not the police.” 

The minister accused the Lib Dem of attacking teachers: “What Mr Rennie has just said is not a slur on the Scottish Government but on the headteachers who have chosen to use the PEF in this way. It is a slur on the teachers who have decided that they know their children best.” 

She urged the MSP to “go away and think seriously about that and not apologise to me but apologise to the teachers that have put this in place and the pupils that they're there to serve.”

The Freedom of information requests by Aberlour found 91 officers were stationed on school campuses across Scotland as of December 2021 - compared to 71 eight years ago.

Since 2018, £1,985,100 of PEF has been spent by schools in Glasgow, West Lothian, Fife and South Lanarkshire.

While schools in North Ayrshire also initially used the funding, this stopped in 2020-21 when the authority allocated money from their core central education budget to pay for the campus officers instead. 

Over the weekend, Martin Canavan, head of policy at Aberlour, said PEF was meant to be for “helping schools to reduce the poverty related attainment gap”. 

He told The Sun: “Children growing up in poverty and who are furthest from education should benefit from the help and support with their learning that this money provides.

“We know that children and their families thrive when they are able to determine what help and support they need in their lives.

“We are curious about the evidence base showing campus cops can improve children’s learning.

“We remain unclear how children and their families have been involved in decisions about having police in their schools, which is why we continue to ask questions.”