Lib Dems education spokesperson Willie Rennie said the Government had branded disadvantaged children as ‘criminals’ after recent reports revealed nearly £2 million in Pupil Equity Funding has been spent on police officers in schools since 2018.
The comments from Mr Rennie came before Shirley-Anne Somerville announced a national discussion is to be launched on a “consensual vision” that can “put the learner at the centre” of Scotland’s education system.
Responding to a question from Mr Rennie on why such a decision to allocate this funding was reached by the Scottish Government, Ms Somerville said decisions were taken by headteachers in an “empowered system”.
She said: “We trust schools and headteachers to know their pupils best and to take decisions that are in the best interests of children and young people.”
Ms Somerville said projects involving Police Scotland did not include policing in schools and stressed the £2m allocated was only 0.3 per cent of the pupil equity funding.
Mr Rennie said: “The education secretary does really need to cut the sloppy shoulders act because the pupil equity funding operational guidance, which I have read and I am sure she wrote, encourages this kind of spending.
“It says ‘consideration should be given to how the school can work with community partners beyond education’, so this is her doing.
“What a slur on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. They have been branded by their Government as criminals before they have even had their first lesson.
“It’s the money that is supposed to follow the child, not the police. Will the education secretary revise the operational guidance without delay to prevent vital funds for education being diverted to fund police in schools?”
In a statement on education reform, Ms Somerville told MSPs “the time is right” to open up conversations on the future of the sector, with the discussion set to start in the new school term.
It comes after a 2021 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence prompted the decision for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to be scrapped.
Education Scotland, the national body tasked with improving the quality of the country’s education system, is also set to have its inspection powers stripped following a report from academic Professor Ken Muir, with changes to come into effect in 2024.
Carol Campbell, professor of leadership and educational change at the University of Toronto, and Dr Alma Harris, emeritus professor at Swansea University and professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University, will co-facilitate the national discussion, while the Government and local government partner Cosla will co-convene.
A new qualifications body, a national agency for Scottish education and an independent inspectorate body will replace the SQA and Education Scotland.
Ms Somerville said these new bodies would “test, challenge and embed” new approaches, cultures, governance and ways of working.
An independent review on qualifications and assessment will also be undertaken by Prof Louise Hayward, with key findings to be considered ahead of the final recommendations arising from the national discussion.
Prof Hayward is expected to report on her findings by the end of March next year.