Campus Officers in Scotland: an overview

Across Scotland, there is an increasing presence of police officers in schools; from 55 campus officers recorded in 2010 to over 87 officers working in schools in 2020 according to a recent FOI response. In Glasgow alone, 25 out of 30 High Schools have a dedicated police presence. A recent report from Manchester based Kids of Colour and No Police in Schools, highlights the impact of police in schools in criminalising young people, exacerbating inequalities and creating a climate of hostility and low expectations. We support their demand for #NoPoliceinSchools and want to shine a light on the issue in Scotland. 

In this series we will start by asking: what is the role and purpose of campus officers? How did we end up with campus officers in Scotland? And, in the context of cuts to education budget and youth services, how are they funded? 

We also want to hear from young people, teachers, education workers and families about your experiences of and thoughts on policing in schools.

What is the role and purpose of COs?

Campus Officers (COs) take different forms and names around the country, sometimes ‘Community Police Officer’, ‘School Liaison Officer’, ‘Youth Engagement Officer’ or ‘School Link Officers’, with a majority (though not all) based directly within the grounds of a particular school. Like their titles then, the role and purpose of COs is not entirely clear- are they for tackling crime? Educational purposes? Pastoral care?

When they first emerged in Scotland the stated aim of police in schools was to reduce truancy and improve behaviour, but more recently COs in Scotland became part of the ‘educational’ component of the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). A Scottish Government evaluation in 2010 highlighted confusion over the actual role of the COs, with a lack of standardised job descriptions. The report highlights COs involvement in: widespread sharing of information between schools and police, delivering lessons (with limited or no educational training), accompanying teaching staff on home visits to address student truancy, handling student discipline in the case of 'potentially criminal behaviour'; and an increasing focus on “work with primary school pupils”, particularly P6/7. The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union’s 2018/19 report found some similar involvement with cases of COs delivering PSE lessons and being involved in guidance and support.

Perhaps surprisingly, the 2010 Scottish Government report concludes that "it is not possible to directly attribute any reduction [in crime] to the work of the campus officer", but argues that they have “Improved the pupils’ relationship with the police”, with many interviewed students and teachers telling the researchers that the presence of COs had reduced 'disruption' at the school.

What is the history of COs in Scotland?

Campus Officers (COs) have been quietly introduced in schools across Scotland over the last two decades, with very little democratic oversight. This lack of transparency and clarity around the role of the COs makes charting a history of them tricky, but not impossible.

The 2010 Scottish Government report cites 2002 as the year that “campus officers were first deployed” in Scotland, with a BBC news article from July that year highlighting how Northfield Academy in Aberdeen would be “leading the way in Scotland by becoming the first to have a police officer on its staff”. This coincided with a New Labour’s ‘Safer Schools Partnership Programme’ south of the border, which proposed stationing police officers in schools to address truancy and discipline issues.

However, as the authors of the recent report ‘Decriminalise the Classroom: A Community Response to Police in Greater Manchester's Schools’ point out, policing in schools:

Has a much longer history dating back at least to the 1950s, and gaining traction through juvenile liaison schemes in the 1960s and 70s. These earlier police-school relationships emerged as part of the State’s dual concerns about youth populations and Britain’s Black communities

In Scotland, COs became part of the wider Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) program following its launch in 2005. The VRU is widely lauded for using a ‘public health model’ to ‘holistically’ treat violence as a ‘disease’ and was modelled on a similar scheme in the US, the Boston Ceasefire Project, which targeted gang crime. The 'educational' component of the VRU targeted schools across the country, seeming to initially focus on areas with high rates of knife crime, but quickly becoming more widespread: in 2010 there were “campus officers in 65 schools, across 6 police forces and 15 local authority areas” in Scotland. As of 2019, 25 out of 30 High Schools in Glasgow alone have COs.

How are COs funded?

The limited public debate around the use of COs in Scotland has largely focused on funding. In 2018/19 the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union published a Freedom of Information request and Report which found that while “the major part of the funding of Campus Police Officers is picked up by Police Scotland”, significant sums of funding were being allocated to COs from council and education budgets. Most controversially, this included the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF), a Scottish Government fund to address poverty related attainment gaps. EIS found that, “three education authorities stated that their Campus Police Officers are paid (in part) by PEF funding”. Green MSP Ross Greer told the Glasgow Times in May 2019 that:

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 other measures which do help close the attainment gap.

The EIS report found varying funding levels and sources, for instance “Falkirk Council’s response stated that it and its secondary schools paid the salary of two police officers (£84K) out of the eight officers employed as Campus Police Officers” whereas other Local Authority responses “suggest that Police Scotland entirely fund School Liaison Officers” in certain parts of the country. The 2010 Government Report provides a slightly clearer, if outdated, overall picture:

Annually, it costs a little over £2 million to have 55 officers in 65 schools across Scotland. Campus officers were deployed based on an allocation of resources from existing police and local authority budgets. Around 64% of this funding is sourced by the police, 30% by local authorities and 6% by Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs), from the Fairer Scotland Fund.  

It remains difficult to get a precise picture of current expenditure on COs. A similar picture seems to be the case in 2020, from the patchwork of FOI responses in the EIS report. Whilst scrutiny of the use of limited local authority and education funding on COs is vital, this should extend to the wider lack of transparency, accountability and necessity of police in schools in Scotland.

However, what is clear is that in the context of austerity, cuts to youth services and reduced educational budgets, policing inside schools has grown and continued to draw on funding that is supposed to be for educational support. No doubt this is centred, as the original COs and VRU were, in areas that have been under-resourced and deprived of public funding more generally, with policing becoming a catch-all response to structural issues of inequality and economic marginalisation. Having police stationed inside our spaces of learning has quietly become the norm in Scotland, without discussion of the impact this has on students, educational workers and communities.  

What are your experiences of and thoughts on policing in schools?

This short introduction to the role, history and funding of police presence in schools raises important questions about the remit, transparency and funding of COs in Scotland. Next week we will look at the impact of COs on Black and POC students, debunk some of the myths and explore alternatives to policing in schools.

But we also want to hear about your experiences of and thoughts on policing in schools. We will share your first hand experiences and perspectives as part of this blog series to raise awareness of COs in Scotland. You can share your experiences here.