The General Teaching Council for Scotland has taken the unprecedented step of warning a local authority that it will be breaking the law if it drafts in unqualified staff to replace primary teachers.
The regulatory body has intervened to challenge Renfrewshire Council, which plans to cover primary teachers' 2.5 hours per week of non-contact time with part-time staff who are not qualified teachers.
The GTCS has already held meetings on the issue with Robert Naylor, the council's director of education and leisure services.
"We would have serious concerns about any scheme in which any part of the teaching week or any element of the school curriculum was delivered by employees who are not registered teachers," said a GTCS spokesman.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said, however: "We understand Renfrewshire Council has made clear that it is not replacing teachers with non-teaching staff."
Under the Requirements for Teachers (Scotland) Regulations 2005, any teacher employed by a local authority must be registered with the GTCS. Renfrewshire Council may argue, however, that the 2.5 hours out of contact with pupils does not amount to teaching.
The council's education policy board was due to meet yesterday to discuss the plans to "revamp" the school week.
The council wants to employ 120 specialist staff on a 16-hour-per-week, term-time contract to deliver 2.5 hours of non-academic activities. The combination of culture, leisure, sports development, Active Schools and community learning officers would cover the 2.5 hours each week.
That time is usually covered either by visiting specialist teachers or a member of staff who does not have a class commitment.
Active Schools and cultural specialists have often been employed in schools but, the GTCS points out, the key difference with Renfrewshire Council's plans is that they have worked under the supervision of qualified teachers.
Renfrewshire says the plan would save it pound;1.1 million per year, contributing to the authority's requirement to save pound;75m over three years. Critics have pointed out that it will allow the council to cut the number of teachers it employs.
However, Lorraine Cameron, convener of Renfrewshire's education policy board, said: "No one can deny that, like any other council, Renfrewshire has to find savings. We believe we would be doing that in an innovative way by preserving resources and teacher-led classes in the traditional academic curriculum, which makes up 22.5 hours of the 25-hours classroom week."
The row has become highly political, with Paisley North Labour MSP Wendy Alexander claiming that the SNP-led council would be providing "schooling on the cheap" for 10 per cent of primary teaching time.
A council spokesman responded: "We have been clear in giving a reassurance that, should councillors approve the proposal, children would continue to be taught by fully-qualified registered teachers during the revised teaching week of 22.5 hours.
"There is also no change to teachers' terms or conditions. We are proposing allocating a specific 2.5 hours per week to better co-ordinate existing council approaches on citizenship, promoting healthy lifestyles and encouraging participation in sport and leisure. The teaching of the curriculum would continue to be undertaken by teachers."
- Original headline: GTCS warns council to follow law when it comes to unqualified staff