Police chiefs have defended a huge increase in the numbers of officers based in UK schools after research by the Runnymede Trust found that the number has risen by 43 per cent year-on-year.
According to the BBC:
The Runnymede Trust race equality think tank found 979 Safer Schools Officers (SSOs) in schools last spring, compared with 683 in 2021.
It found SSOs are more likely to be based in schools with higher numbers of children on free school meals, often with higher numbers of black pupils.
But the National Police Chiefs’ Council says SSOs play an essential role.
The Runnymede Trust gathered the Freedom of Information data following the case of Child Q, a 15-year-old black girl who was strip-searched by the Metropolitan Police at school without an appropriate adult present.
Children from ethnic minority groups are up to three times more likely to be strip-searched by police after an arrest than white children, according to Met Police data.
Police officers have worked in schools for decades and were formally introduced in the Safer Schools Partnership programme in 2002.
The programme is something schools can choose to sign up to. Depending what schools ask for, SSOs might offer assemblies, workshops or provide drop-in sessions for pupils.
But some campaigners and community leaders are worried SSOs are doing more harm than good.
Dr Shabna Begum, head of research at the Runnymede Trust, is concerned schools could be leaning too heavily on police to sort out “quite trivial” behavioural or pastoral problems that should be dealt with by teaching staff.
If this is happening, black children may face harsher consequences – creating a pathway to the criminal justice system.
Race equality activists say this problem is often the result of adultification – when black children are more likely to face tougher punishments at school because they are viewed as less innocent.
But Metropolitan Police Commander Catherine Roper, NPCC lead for children and young people, says the role of SSOs is vital.
“It’s an opportunity to work with children and young persons in a secure environment, to build up that trust and confidence, start those conversations, to build up that rapport,” she said.
She says SSOs can help to support children who might be vulnerable to exploitation, such as county lines drugs operations.