Councils in Scotland are warning that they cannot be held accountable for maintaining teacher numbers in the future if the government goes ahead with its plan to give headteachers the power to dictate how their schools are staffed.
The warning from Stephen McCabe, the children and young people spokesman for council umbrella body Cosla, came as new figures published this week showed that the total number of teachers working in Scottish schools had risen to its highest level since 2010.
“If the new situation is one where headteachers determine the make-up of staff in their schools, then it will be headteachers who determine if they would rather have, for instance, more additional support needs assistants than teachers,” Mr McCabe said. “How can councils be held to account for overall staffing ratios if responsibility for staffing is devolved to headteachers?”
Education secretary John Swinney recently revealed that, as part of the Scottish Government’s plans to devolve more control to headteachers, he intended to give school leaders the ability to select their own staff teams.
The government consultation on the new Education Bill, entitled Empowering Schools, published last month, says: “Ultimately, a headteacher must be able to select the team with whom they work.”
However, responding to Mr McCabe’s comments, Mr Swinney told Tes Scotland that a lot of discussion had yet to take place around how the education reforms would work in practice.
He added: “Anyone that suggests we should not have a strong number of teachers within the teaching profession, I think, is rather missing the point. The centrality of teachers in the education system – whichever way you look at it – is a key contributor to the educational success Scotland is now seeing and wants to see more of.”
Meanwhile, the general secretary of the EIS teaching union, Larry Flanagan, said he did not accept Mr McCabe’s analysis of the government’s plans.
Councils would continue “to assert their role as employer” and, therefore, “should still be responsible for delivering teacher numbers on the ground”, he said.
The Scottish Government has given councils financial incentives to maintain teacher numbers since 2011.
Official government figures show the number of teachers working in Scotland grew by 1 per cent, or 543 teachers, rising from 50,970 last year to 51,513 this year.
The increase in staff for the second year in a row can be attributed to the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF), which was designed to drive up the attainment of disadvantaged children.
Mr Flanagan welcomed the rise, but warned that if the 666 teachers paid for by the ASF – who would often be on fixed-term contracts – were removed from the figures, “you are looking at a different scenario”. He argued that these “attainment teachers” should be over and above core staffing because “they are meant to be focused entirely on closing the attainment gap”.
However, Mr Swinney said: “I’m not all that interested in categorising what type of teachers they are. What I’m interested in is the fact we’ve got 543 more teachers, which is what lots of voices have been saying we need to have and we have delivered.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 15 December edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.