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War of words over teacher numbers

27 November 09 15:14 GMT

Scotland's education secretary has clashed with local authorities over a drop in the number of teachers north of the border.

The figure fell by 1,348 over the past year, a drop which was described as "unacceptable" by Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

However, her claims were rejected by local authority umbrella body Cosla, which expressed "surprise and disappointment" at her comments.

Here are their statements in full.


"Half of Scotland's councils have delivered improvements in primary school class sizes.

Half have not. What is more, there has been a sharp fall in the number of teachers. That is simply unacceptable.

We now have to find a new way forward to ensure class size reductions in P1 to P3 are delivered in all of Scotland's councils. The Scottish Cabinet will hold talks with Cosla leaders to discuss how we achieve this.

Everything will be on the table and we will keep an open mind, but parents and pupils have a right to insist on progress.

That's why we will discuss how best to establish where the estimated 110 million pounds that could have been spent on teacher salaries has been spent, what help can be offered to individual councils facing specific difficulties and whether the Scottish Government needs to examine alternatives to the current system of local government delivery of education policy.

In our Concordat with local government it was explicitly accepted that sufficient funding had been made available to maintain teacher numbers at 2007 levels.

Council budgets are also rising, total education spending is up and nationally attainment is improving.

The recession and other pressures mean slower progress on class sizes was inevitable but overall, councils have clearly spent over £110m of funding provided by the Scottish government for teachers salaries on other purposes.

Many councils are making real progress - particularly in places like East Ayrshire, Angus, Midlothian, and South Ayrshire. Too many are not.

What's more, some councils are deliberately refusing to meet their class size pledge. In particular, Glasgow City Council is responsible for more than one quarter of the total fall in teacher numbers.

For one authority among 32 councils to account for such a huge drop is deplorable.

What is truly shocking is that Glasgow City Council has increased class sizes and cut teacher numbers at exactly the same time as figures for attainment show they are the worst performing council in Scotland.

The percentage of Glasgow S5 pupils achieving three Highers is down and now stands at just over half the Scottish average. To slash teacher numbers at the same time as attainment is falling is an act of reckless disregard for the interests of children.

The Scottish Government is already taking action where it can. We have announced a #10 million borrowing facility which will enable local authorities to offer early retirement to up to 500 teachers, creating job opportunities for newly qualified teachers.

We also directly funded 300 additional permanent teachers in 2007 and made available funding for an extra 100 teachers for Curriculum for Excellence.

The cabinet talks with Cosla leaders will now allow a way forward to be found and we will keep an open mind on all options while these talks are underway.



"The removal of ring fencing reflected a widely held recognition that input measures do not provide, and have never provided, an appropriate way in which to monitor performance.

Unfortunately that widely held recognition is not universal and some stakeholders continue to focus their efforts on monitoring inputs with little or no regard to the impact those inputs have on outcomes.

I'm surprised and disappointed that these input statistics continue to receive such negative attention. The last time teacher numbers sat at the levels we see today we had over 100 more schools and almost 47,000 more pupils.

Councils are under constant pressure to deliver efficiency savings and best value and it would be economic suicide to maintain teacher numbers while experiencing falling school rolls, rising salaries, and record demands on children's services.

Cosla and local government is committed to the concordat and our relationship with Scottish Government, but we need to be pragmatic, not dogmatic, in our approach to delivering on political commitments, and put service quality and improving outcomes before anything else.

I think the Scottish people would expect this from the people who are responsible for delivering their education services.

Lets put these statistics into perspective. Against a background where councils have faced huge budgetary pressures, councils continue to spend record levels on education.

Local government is in charge of running Scotland's £4.7 billion per year education service. The vast majority of this figure, around £3.2 billion per year, is spent on teachers and other staff.

Despite suggestions to the contrary the most recently published budget estimates for 09/10 are that these levels will be broadly maintained.

Local authorities are well aware that as with many input measures, expenditure figures do not always translate into improved educational outcomes for children.

This is why local government would much rather have its success measured by how it improves the lives of children, rather on how much it spends.

However, there is a connection between resources and service quality. All the evidence points to the fact that teacher quality is the input which delivers better educational outcomes for children.

Local and Scottish Government have invested heavily in improving quality of teachers over the last decade. It is no coincidence that we now have a more valued, better qualified and better remunerated educational workforce than ever before.

Accusations that councils have made savings from reducing teacher numbers, or redirected those resources elsewhere are disappointing and ill informed.

Budgetary decisions are not taken by accident or in a vacuum, and it is again no coincidence that teacher numbers have fallen by 2.5%, which is exactly the salary increase in the current year of the teacher's pay deal.

Councils do not make savings and reduce staff without careful analysis of what this means in terms of outcomes.

Class sizes have improved and local government has delivered year on year progress exactly as agreed in the Concordat. Local Government is moving on class size reduction as quickly as resources allow.

Councils finding themselves faced with taking the decision of maintaining teacher numbers at artificially high levels, consequently have to consider sacrificing competing educational priorities and other council services.

We need to be realistic, much as budgets have been protected to this point in time, Council's record levels of education expenditure are unlikely to be sustainable in face of the forecast budget cuts.

Next year is likely to be the last year when local government expenditure on education will rise, and we must debate how to prioritise these increasingly scarce resources in an open and mature way.


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