Teacher numbers could continue to fall

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By Paul Thornton

EDUCATION Secretary Michael Russell MSP has admitted that the “freefall” of teacher numbers in Scotland will not be reversed and could get worse.

After seeing the number of teachers plummet by more than 2,000 in the last two years, Mr Russell admitted: “There has been a reduction that I don’t see us making up again, to be honest.

The admission is the latest in a series of blows to the SNP’s education policies which were a lynchpin of their election campaign and was branded “astonishing” by Labour.

They say the Scottish Government have now scaled back on almost all of their manifesto pledges including promises on class sizes for younger children.

Only seven per cent of P1 to P3 classes now have a class size of 18 or less despite this being an across the board promise.

Over a quarter of newly qualified teachers are out of work and plans to slash the number of training places have been announced amid tightening budgets at local authorities.

But Mr Russell said the country had to look at the situation “realistically”.

He said: “We need to maintain the teaching profession for the circumstances we find ourselves in.

“Realistically, it has not been possible for local authorities to continue to employ the same number of teachers as two years ago. They say that, and I understand that.

“I hope we will be able to sustain the number of teachers. There has been a reduction that I don’t see us making up again, to be honest. Equally, I don’t want to see a further substantial cut.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Des McNulty slammed the government’s record on schools.

Mr McNulty said: “After losing over 2000 teachers Mike Russell is not ruling out even further reductions in teacher numbers. This is an astonishing admission from the minister.

“What is clear is that the SNP are losing control over the education system.

“Teacher numbers are in freefall, Curriculum for Excellence is in turmoil, the PE pledge is going nowhere, colleges are being forced to turn away students and yet the minister is still banging on about smaller classes that he knows he can’t deliver.”

“Mike Russell said he was going to build bridges with local authorities over education but with the cuts being made by councils due to the SNP’s political decisions in Scottish schools it’s clear that this is a broken relationship.”

Last April, the Scottish Government announced one in eight teacher-training places would be cut in order to cope with the rising numbers of unemployed teachers caused by council cost-saving measures.

The move will mean 500 fewer teachers graduating from next year.

And figures released last month by the General Teaching Council for Scotland revealed that 27.5 per cent, or about 800, of those who finished their probation year in June were not working by October.

This compared with 21 per cent the previous year and just 5.3 per cent when the annual survey began in 2005.

Mr Russell said he recognised that the jobs crisis has had an effect on the government’s class size pledge.

He also acknowledged an £8m drop in funding for teacher training but said that the government would try to keep the ability to train more teachers in future years.

Mr Russell said: “We can’t continue to pay the teacher education institutes for something they’re not doing, but I am trying to make sure they maintain the capacity for training a larger number of teachers than they will have this year.”

He added that the class size pledge would be based on “gradual implementation”.

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