A scheme that uses police officers in schools to stem violence and bad behaviour has led to a spate of arrests, leaving pupils with criminal records - where before they would have been disciplined.
A children's charity says the Government's pound;10 million Safer Schools scheme is criminalising teenagers for minor misbehaviour and creating a "fingerprinted" generation who will find it difficult to get jobs.
Shauneen Lambe, director of Just for Kids Law, says she has been made aware of many such cases, from a 12-year-old boy prosecuted for stealing a mobile phone to a van full of police officers called to arrest a 15-year-old boy.
"We need to ask ourselves: what are we doing to our children?" she said.
"If these kids are convicted, it is on their record for life. How are they going to get jobs? How does this benefit society? The problem with police officers in schools is that their mentality is about arresting and prosecuting.
"We are seeing more cases relating to playground incidents that would previously have been treated as an internal matter but are now ending in court."
The scheme, which was first piloted four years ago, now has police officers attached to more than 400 primary and secondary schools. Schools using the scheme have reported a decline in truancy and pupils say it has made them feel safer.
But research by The TES has uncovered widespread evidence of children being arrested for what would previously have been regarded as minor offences. At one London school, a 12-year-old girl was questioned for seven hours and reprimanded after shoving another pupil against the wall. At another, three 11-year-old boys were questioned by the robbery squad after a parent made a complaint about bullying. In south London, a 12-year-old boy was taken to court after his mother forced him to apologise for stealing a mobile phone.
Ms Lambe has dubbed it "the Grange Hill effect": incidents that would once have resulted in a scuffle on the BBC's children's soap are now ending in court.
Rod Morgan, of the Youth Justice Board, admitted that not all the government's Safer Schools Partnerships are functioning as planned. "Where there is a full-time officer in a school, I would contend it reduces arrests," he said. But he believed that in so-called bronze and silver schemes, where police are either part-time or occasional visitors, it could have the opposite effect.
"In some force areas my impression is that some of the schools' officers don't want to do it and they perhaps aren't the best people to do it," he said This week Professor Morgan and Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnados and a former director general of the prison service, condemned the number of young offenders who end up in custody. As many as 210,000 young people were prosecuted last year, an increase of 25,000 since the mid-1990s.
Will McMahon, director of the Crime and Society Foundation, said: "We are funnelling thousands of kids through the system who should not be there. It is sending out the message that the police are the only way to deal with disagreements. They are increasingly becoming the first port of call, not just for schools, but for children's homes and hospitals too."
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