Teacher numbers could continue to fall, Education Secretary Michael Russell has admitted as he prepares to overhaul almost all the SNP Government's education commitments.
"Realism" is to be his watchword in decisions he makes about the feasibility of implementing the policy pledges he has inherited, and which he now has to consider against an economic background very different from when his Government came to power in 2007.
In an interview with The TESS, Mr Russell notably avoided the undertaking given by Fiona Hyslop, his predecessor, that teacher numbers should be maintained at the 2007 levels of 53,000. They have already fallen by more than 2,000 in the past two years, and Ms Hyslop's public dressing down last year of Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Aberdeen, accusing them of being responsible for half the shortfall, marked the intensification of her political troubles.
But Mr Russell is clearly prepared to live with political jibes of a U- turn, declaring: "We need to maintain the teaching profession for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Realistically, it has not been possible for local authorities to continue to employ the same number of teachers as two years ago. They say that, and I understand that.
"I hope we will be able to sustain the number of teachers. There has been a reduction that I don't see us making up again, to be honest. Equally, I don't want to see a further substantial cut."
Mr Russell acknowledged that the jobs crisis has had an effect both on the Government's class-size pledge in the infant years and on the teacher education institutions which will see their funding reduced from pound;30 to pound;22 million, following a cut in the intake of trainee teachers.
He remains adamant that "we can't continue to pay the TEIs for something they're not doing, but I am trying to make sure they maintain the capacity for training a larger number of teachers than they will have this year".
Mr Russell appears to believe that his most urgent necessity is to re- connect with the profession, both teachers and employers. He announced an unprecedented move to work with the unions to gauge their members' views on Curriculum for Excellence and accepted that the class-size pledge must be based on "gradual implementation".
One of his most telling comments, in relation to developing the new curriculum, was that "the quality of what we do will be directly proportionate to the ownership that people take of it".
He added: "Reassurance is not enough: what you need to do is to listen to people to make sure their concerns are addressed."