Council boss Jenny Laing has warned “golden hellos” to tempt teachers to the north-east could be axed.
The Aberdeen City Council leader revealed last night that the authority has spent about £500,000 in the last year trying to tackle the staffing crisis in schools by offering incentives to relocate to the area.
And she admitted the council is caught in a catch-22, where it either has continue offering these “golden hellos” to prospective teachers – despite imminent budget cuts – or risk having its funding slashed for failing to meet government targets.
Mrs Laing – who chaired a recent emergency summit to discuss the teaching crisis across the north and north-east – delivered the stark warning after she spoke at the Scottish Parliament’s education committee yesterday.
She told MSPs that the council had to spend “significant amounts” on perks – including city centre accommodation – in a bid to get teachers on the staff roll.
But she warned that such extravagance would not be able to continue indefinitely as cuts start to bite.
She said the council’s teaching staff was already severely stretched, with head teachers being drafted in to help plug vacancies in the classroom.
Local authorities signed up to an agreement in February to safeguard the number of teaching posts in Scotland in 2015/16 in return for a share of a funding package.
But cash will be “clawed back” from those councils which fail to hit the target.
Gary Robinson, leader of Shetland Council, also addressed the committee and said fear of missing out on the cash pot had even led them to hire three teachers the local authority had no need for.
Mrs Laing told the group: “Being bound by teacher/pupil ratios causes us difficulties as we go forward.
“We held a summit recently, which the cabinet secretary for education attended, to hear the difficulties that we encounter in both the recruitment and retention of teachers because of the high cost of living that we have, particularly in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
“The difficulty with that is that it means we have had to spend significant amounts of money on recruitment, advertising, golden hellos, we are now having to try and provide accommodation to encourage teachers to come into Aberdeen city.
“All of that has to come out of our education budget so we have difficulties and challenges around that.
“We want to make sure our young people have the best possible education we can provide but we have difficulties, particularly in our secondary schools around the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, because of the competing nature of the oil sector and people with those qualifications wanting to work there.
“So all of that causes us challenges and because our budgets are tied in to the pupil/teacher ratio and there was the threat that if we didn’t meet the numbers there would be claw back on our budget.
“That puts us under pressure and I’m sure it does other authorities as well.”
Last night Alison Evison, chairwoman of Aberdeenshire Council’s education committee, said that since councils were “clearly” under “severe funding pressures”, the government should relax its sanctions.
She said: “It would be helpful therefore if the Scottish Government removed any sanctions relating to teacher numbers from the forthcoming grant settlement.
“Of course, Aberdeenshire is continuing to do all it can to increase teacher recruitment. We are working alongside
neighbouring councils and other partners to address this issue, including by seeking to improve training opportunities for teachers in the north-east.”
Teacher census figures, which will show if councils have succeeded in meeting the pupil/teacher ratio, are due to be published next week.
Mrs Laing said the census system in place was “ludicrous” and did not accurately reflect the position authorities were in.
And she said that she and other council leaders from across the north and north-east had written to Education Secretary Angela Constance demanding answers on how the government was going to address the crisis.