SNP accused of breaking promise over class sizes

The government had pledged to maintain teacher numbers and class sizes. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The government had pledged to maintain teacher numbers and class sizes. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SCOTLAND’S largest teaching union has warned of a government “stitch-up” on teacher numbers and class sizes.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) yesterday accused the Scottish Government of abandoning its commitment to maintain teacher numbers and lower class sizes.

The EIS has written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney to raise its concerns about the terms of the local authority budget settlement, announced late last year, in which no mention was made of funding for these two long-standing policy commitments.

Early local authority budget statements have indicated that education is poised to suffer more deep cuts this year. Local authority umbrella group Cosla has already made clear its intention to further cut teacher numbers and increase class sizes.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The budget settlement, which seemed to grant local authorities licence to attack teacher numbers and increase class sizes, suggests that the Scottish Government is willing to abandon key commitments to Scotland’s pupils, parents and teachers.

“We have already seen class sizes increase across Scotland – and that was with guarantees on teacher numbers in place. Now, with the potential removal of these protections, councils would be able to cut back still further on teaching staff numbers with damaging consequences for young people in our classrooms.”

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He added: “The Scottish Government and Cosla can talk all they like about working to agree a new set of measures based on ‘educational outcomes’, but the fact of the matter is you cannot deliver outcomes without sufficient input – and that means investment to ensure there are sufficient numbers of teachers.”

Hundreds of teaching posts have been axed from Scotland’s schools in the past year, with the numbers slumping to a ten-year low. This has in turn resulted in rising class sizes.

Council leaders have said the declining teacher numbers are down to swingeing cuts which will see budgets reduced by hundreds of millions of pounds in the years ahead.

Last month, The Scotsman revealed that there were 254 fewer teachers in 2014 than the year before – and 3,425 more pupils. This leaves a total of 50,824 teachers in Scotland’s state schools – a fall of 4,275 since the SNP came to power in 2007.

In Fife, 67 teaching posts have been lost, while Edinburgh council has cut 63 teachers. The Borders, Dundee, South Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire have also made cuts.

Under the terms of the agreement between the Scottish Government and Cosla, councils who make cuts should incur financial penalties, but ministers have so far refused to impose the sanctions, pending discussions on how councils are to be judged on educational performance in future.

The Scottish Government reaffirmed its commitment to talks between Cosla, local authorities, teaching unions and parent bodies, and said if such talks “do not reach a satisfactory agreement, the existing commitment and financial agreements will remain in place”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While any change in the wrong direction is disappointing, teacher numbers have been broadly maintained in the face of Westminster austerity. In that context it is important that we all work together for children and young people.”

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