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Falling teacher numbers in the Highlands sparks calls for more investment

David Stewart
David Stewart

Teacher numbers in the Highlands has dropped by more than 100 in the last two years – sparking calls for more investment in education in the north.

In Highland, Scottish Government figures show there are 2,284 teachers in Highland, compared to 2,388 in 2018 – a decline of 104.

However, pupil to teacher ratio has not changed much over the last several years, increasing slightly from 13.2 to 13.5 since 2013

There has also be declines in the Western Isles – down 11 since 2014 – Moray, reduced from 881 to 873 in the same period, while Shetland and Orkney has seen declines of only three each in the same period.

However, Aberdeen has risen more than 100 to 1,725 and Aberdeenshire up to 2,720 from 2,593 in 2014.

Parent teacher ratios have not changed dramatically for the north regions, with Shetland at 10 pupils per teacher and Moray the highest with 13.9.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart said: “The SNP told us that education would be their number one priority, despite this they are failing pupils in the Highlands and Islands.

“There are less teachers in Scotland’s schools than there were when the SNP went into Government in 2007.

“The Scottish Government asked to be judged on education and with a failure to close the attainment gap and falling spend per pupil, our overstretched and overworked teachers have less time to prepare and their classes are packed with more pupils.

“Scottish education has amongst the largest average class size in the OECD with almost the highest teacher contact hours in the developed world. Without an expansion in the school estate and an increase in teacher numbers, the high pupil density Scottish school system is more vulnerable to Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The SNP need to focus on delivering for our schools and children’s education, not another divisive independence referendum.”

The Scottish Government has provided additional funding of £2,200,000 to Highland Council to support ‘education recovery’ – to be wholly spent on additional teacher resource in schools.

A spokeswoman said: “Highland schools will use this additional, creative teaching resources over the next year to compensate for any loss of learning suffered during lockdown, as well as to bring much needed resilience to the education system at this challenging time.”

Education chairman Councillor John Finlayson added: “These funds will make a big difference to how we are able to support resilience and attainment in our schools and to the learning experience of our young people across the region.

“We will continue to have discussions with our schools and Head Teachers about how this money is spent to ensure maximum benefit”.

He added: “Highland continues to staff schools in line with national recommendations and over recent months we have been delighted with the recruitment of additional staff to support Covid and also the high number of applications for vacant posts, from both within and out with Highland.

“However what is noticeable in many parts of Highland is the decrease in school rolls, even though this is not the case in Inverness.

“The roll of a school clearly determines the number of teachers employed although in Highland there are situations where agreements are in place to support individual settings and also small secondary schools, to enable them to provide a broad and relevant curriculum.

“All staffing issues are discussed regularly with schools and the unions through the Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers and local flexibility is also applied when required.”

Shetland Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “The SNP made huge fanfare of their promise to reduce class sizes but more than a decade on it is being missed for 140,000 pupils this year alone.

“That increases teacher workload and starves children of precious extra contact time, making it harder to tackle the attainment gap.

“The difference between Scottish Ministers’ grand statements on Scottish education and the reality in schools has never been more stark. Teachers and pupils are not being given the space and time they need to thrive, and that needs to urgently change.”

SNP candidate for Aberdeenshire West Fergus Mutch said: “As our schools close for the Christmas break, we should all thank teachers for their hard work in keeping Aberdeenshire’s schools safe.

“Education is the SNP government’s top priority and we now have more teachers in our classrooms thanks to more investment.

“There’s more work to do if we are to cut the attainment gap and drive up standards here in Aberdeenshire and right across Scotland.

“But with the best record in the UK on teacher numbers, there’s no better party to take on that challenge at Holyrood than the SNP.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Through our Teaching Makes People campaign and work with universities, we are doing all we can to attract talented, committed people into teaching in rural areas.

“In addition the Preference waiver payment is aimed specifically at encouraging newly qualified teachers to work in rural areas and we have provided £3m to offer a further 150 Stem Bursaries this year to enable career changers to enter the teaching profession in hard to fill Stem subjects.”