Two publications in recent weeks have sharply focused attention on key challenges facing Scottish education. The first was the TESS survey on the availability of supply teachers ("Shortage of supply staff 'at crisis point'", 13 December). The second was the Scottish government's release of figures about class sizes and teacher numbers.
As the TESS article highlighted, supply teachers are thin on the ground. The survey covered 25 of the 32 local authorities, but I suspect from speaking to members of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland that the same problem would also have been highlighted in the remaining seven. Without question, this is a problem across Scotland and one that needs to be addressed.
In the same edition there was reference to the government statistics showing that nursery student numbers continue to grow while teacher numbers dwindle ("Preschool students rise as teacher numbers fall", News at a glance). The bulk of mainstream media focus was on class sizes in P1-3 but the continued mismatch of teachers to students in the nursery sector is much more concerning. The government has very much set out its stall in relation to the importance of nursery education, with teachers at the core, but these statistics paint a gloomy picture on progress. This comes at a time when the government plans to increase nursery entitlement to 600 hours per year. If education is to be at the heart of that provision then we need to see a significant jump in nursery teacher numbers in next year's statistics. Without this the policy focus will have shifted from early education to care.
Greg Dempster, General secretary, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland.