The Scottish Government’s spat with councils over teacher numbers will “benefit no child in Scotland” opposition leaders have warned.
Education secretary Angela Constance came under fire over the “divide and rule” to approach to teacher numbers and “centrally imposed targets” on local councils at Holyrood yesterday.
It came as she unveiled the seven councils to benefit from a new £100 million fund aimed at ensuring children from the poorest parts of Scotland do better at school.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney last week threatened to effectively cut council budgets by tens of millions of pounds if they do not maintain teacher numbers.
The move prompted a furious row with council leaders who accused ministers of walking out of talks and threatened legal action over the issue this week.
Tory Highland MSP Mary Scanlon told MSPs: “The unsightly rammy between the Scottish Government will benefit no child in Scotland.”
Ms Constance told MSPs yesterday: “My number one priority is to safeguard the education of our children, to maintain and indeed to raise attainment and in particular to close that attainment gap. I don’t see how we can make significant progress in closing the attainment gap while sitting back and allowing teacher numbers to fall.”
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The minister was told that, under the deal, some councils which have adequate teacher numbers could be punished if they do not keep recruiting.
She said the government wanted to reach a national agreement with local government body Cosla.
Instead the government is dealing directly with Scotland’s 32 local councils who will get a share of £51m in extra funding if they maintain the ratio of pupil to teachers and the number of teachers they employ.
Ms Constance told MSPs yesterday: “It is disappointing that Cosla find themselves unable to accept the original offer. It’s a fair and generous offer that has now been made to all local authorities and ideally we would encourage them to accept.”
The maintenance of teacher numbers is also part of a deal with unions which prompted them to accept changes to their pay and conditions, she added.
Ayr MSP John Scott said South Ayrshire council had a lower teacher-pupil ratio than is required – but despite falling school rolls will now have to employ teachers, otherwise, the council will lose out on its share of funding.
“Is this fair that these local authorities will be expected to subsidise councils who have not complied with the guidelines?”
Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said many areas are struggling to recruit teachers.
He added: “They will not find this task any easier if they are subject to financial penalties.
“The government’s divide and rule approach makes national workforce planning – and responding the change in school rolls between local authority areas – difficult if not impossible.”
Tory backbencher Cameron Buchanan said: “Education policy should focus on outcomes for students, rather than central imposed targets.”