Staffing levels fall

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Half of Scottish councils have reduced their primary and secondary staffing levels this year despite Government's undertaking to employ the same number

Half of Scottish councils have reduced their primary and secondary staffing levels this year, which flies in the face of the Government's undertaking that the same number should be employed despite falling rolls.

This is the latest dent to have appeared in the Scottish Government's plans to deliver its education policies through the concordat with local government. Its commitments to reduce P1-3 classes to 18 and to introduce free school meals in those years are also mired in controversy and doubt.

Figures obtained by Rhona Brankin, Labour's education spokesperson, in a freedom of information request, show that of the 28 councils which provided full data, 14 have fewer full-time equivalent teachers in primary schools compared with last year and 17 are employing fewer in secondaries.

Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, continues to maintain that there is enough money in the financial settlement for local government - Pounds 34.9 billion over three years - to keep teacher numbers at 53,000. This is especially crucial in the primary sector because this is the mechanism for cutting infant class sizes. She did, however, have to inject a further Pounds 9 million last June to help councils employ another 300 teachers.

The concordat agreement between central and local government states: "The provision for additional capital allocation and specific arrangements for local authorities to maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls will allow significant progress on this policy over the spending review period."

The reference to "this policy" covers improving the fabric of schools, delivering A Curriculum for Excellence, and giving every pre-school child access to a teacher - as well as limiting P1-3 classes to 18.

But it is clear from these figures that councils of all political hues and sizes are struggling to maintain teacher levels. Authorities which have cut back on primary numbers are Argyll and Bute, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Renfrewshire, Shetland and South Ayrshire. The decreases range from 5 per cent in Argyll and Bute to 0.5 per cent in Shetland.

In the secondary sector, there are fewer teachers in Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and West Dunbartonshire. The drop ranges from 7.6 per cent in East Lothian to 0.77 per cent in East Dunbartonshire.

Only seven authorities have managed to increase the number of both primary and secondary teachers this year - Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Midlothian, Perth and Kinross, Scottish Borders and West Lothian.

Ms Brankin seized on the figures to pursue the case of "broken promises" against the Government, which she said had "failed to prioritise education".

The Educational Institute of Scotland noted "the gap between what the Government says it wants to achieve and the employment decisions being made by local authorities".

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland commented: "In the context of a very tight budget settlement, and where the costs of transport, fuel, catering, cleaning and employment are all rising, local authorities will look to education services to make savings - and the bulk of the expenditure is on staff.

But John Stodter, the ADES general secretary, took some comfort from the fact that half of councils were able to increase or maintain staff.

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