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Concern at teacher numbers drop

22 December 08 14:05 GMT

The number of teachers in Scotland's classrooms has fallen to its lowest level since 2005, sparking concern from unions.

Figures showed there were 56,800 teachers employed by councils in the third quarter of this year, compared with 57,700 at the same time last year.

The figure for 2006 was 57,100, according to the statistics.

But a spokesman for the Scottish Government branded the claims "misleading".

He said the public sector employment estimates included teachers on maternity leave and supply and those statistics did not reflect "the numbers actually in the classroom" at any given point.

The spokesman added: "Overall, the number of people employed in education is 93,300 - compared to 92,600 when this Scottish Government came into office.

"The Scottish Government has provided local government with record funding of £34.9bn - a 13.1% increase over the three-year spending review period."

The EIS union insisted it was important teacher numbers were kept steady to help meet promises about class sizes.

The official public sector employment figures showed that the number of teachers was currently the lowest since 2005, when there were 56,500 employed in Scottish public schools.

EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said the government had pledged to keep teacher numbers steady while school rolls were falling, so that class sizes could be cut.

"But it's quite clear that teacher numbers are not being held steady through decisions by local authorities," he said.

The Scottish Government has a flagship manifesto commitment to reduce class sizes to 18 in primaries one to three.

Mr Smith acknowledged that some councils were voicing concerns about the funding settlement with the Scottish Government, while ministers said this was agreed in its concordat with Cosla.

But Mr Smith added: "We're being squeezed in the middle - it's a real belt-tightening exercise."

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop last week faced a grilling from Holyrood's education committee after a survey by the General Teaching Council for Scotland showed that in October this year 79% of recently qualified teachers were working in the profession.

That is down from the same time last year, when 87.8% had found a teaching job of some kind after completing their probationary period.

Retiring teachers

Mr Smith said it was claimed at the time this was down to fewer teachers retiring than expected.

But he added: "This shows the problem is that there are actually fewer people being employed as teachers.

"Teacher numbers are going down - it's not about some old lags not retiring."

Ms Hyslop said last week more newly-qualified teachers would find work, as jobs came up throughout the year when other teachers retired.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) has accused councils of "bullying" ill teachers into coming back to work.

In a newsletter to SSTA district officials, acting general secretary Jim Docherty said some local authorities had introduced procedures which resulted in teachers facing potential disciplinary action while off sick after suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Mr Docherty added: "Among the silliest ideas are the instructions given to employees who have provided medical certificates relating to serious long term illnesses, requiring the employees to report to a senior manager by telephone every week.

"Effectively employees are being instructed to report "My leg is still broken" or "My treatment for cancer is continuing."

"We should also highlight the trend towards the slavish use of trigger points. Employees are being warned that they face disciplinary action simply because their absences have reached a certain level.

"They are being subject to disciplinary action simply because they have had a stroke or a heart attack. There are existing, more sympathetic procedures in place in such cases."

Mr Docherty claimed that the idea appeared to be that attendance could be improved by "bullying" them into attending work more often.

'Duty to public'

But in a joint statement, both the Society of Personnel Directors in Scotland and local government umbrella group Cosla accused the SSTA of "living in cloud cuckoo land".

The statement added: "Councils take all absences from any sector of their workforce extremely seriously. We have a duty to our workforce and a duty to the public pound.

"Regular communication between line managers and employees who are absent from work is essential to both the council and the individual employees in ensuring that all parties are updated on developments in the workplace and that the council can offer support that will allow an early return to work or regular attendance in the workplace.

"It is wholly appropriate to take disciplinary action where it is clearly demonstrated that an employee is unable to sustain regular attendance at work."

However, disciplinary action would only be taken when all other efforts had failed, the statement said.

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