Class sizes up as teacher numbers fall in Scotland

CLASS sizes are growing in Scotland’s primary schools while teacher numbers across all schools are continuing to fall, new figures show.

Primary class sizes have increased, according to new figures. Picture: TSPL

Despite the overall pupil-to-teacher ratio remaining static for the third year in a row, statistics from the Scottish Government show teacher numbers have fallen for a sixth year, down from 51,253 last year to 51,078.

The average primary class size grew from 22.7 in 2012 to 23.2, although almost all P1s are in classes of 25 or less – up from

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33 per cent in 2006.

The percentage of P1-P3 pupils in class sizes of 18 or fewer dropped from 18.8 per cent in 2012 to 13.6 per cent in 2013.

Legislation was introduced in 2010 to limit P1 classes to 25 pupils after the SNP dropped an ambitious 2007 manifesto commitment to reduce P1-P3 classes to 18 or fewer.

The raft of statistics published yesterday also show that exclusions have fallen by almost 23,000 since 2006-7, a drop of

51 per cent, and attendance levels are now at 93.6 per cent.

Education secretary Mike Russell said: “There is much to be pleased about in today’s school statistics, not least the fact that the number of exclusions have reduced to the lowest level on record and attendance rates are higher than ever.

“With 84 per cent of pupils now in buildings that are in good or satisfactory condition, compared to 61 per cent in 2007, our pledge to move 46,000 pupils into top-quality accommodation will continue to bear fruit in the years to come, building on the huge progress we have made so far.

“I am also particularly pleased that the countrywide pupil-teacher ratio has remained level, ensuring that our teaching workforce is now stable. The Scottish Government took steps to manage the supply of teachers and now we have the lowest level of teacher unemployment across the UK.

“I also plan to make a further announcement on more teacher training opportunities in the coming months.”

But Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, said: “Protection of teacher numbers was one of the few positives from the 2011 teaching agreement which saw a £45 million cuts package being implemented.

“This year, however, we have seen a fall in teacher numbers whilst at the same time class sizes are rising, especially in

the P1-3 phase which has been a policy area for the Scottish Government.

“We have also witnessed a fall in nursery-aged children who have access to a teacher – again a policy promise of the Scottish Government which is being broken.”

He added: “Teachers will be extremely angry that whilst they are working flat-out to deliver Curriculum for Excellence, promised commitments on education are being broken.”

Yesterday’s figures show that teacher numbers have fallen by more than 4,000 since the SNP came to power in 2007.

The total number of teachers in all schools stands at 51,078, down from 55,100 in 2007, with numbers falling in the secondary sector but rising in primary schools over the past year.

Labour’s education spokeswoman, Kezia Dugdale, said: “Despite the abject failure to meet his own targets, and with fewer teachers in our classrooms, Mike Russell proclaims this as a success.

“It can only be so in the parallel universe of the SNP.

It isn’t good enough for Mike Russell to simply ignore his own targets and declare success when he is so abjectly failing against his own measurements.

“Parents, teachers and our children deserve better than this.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur added: “Six years ago, the SNP pledged to reduce class sizes for P1-3.

“Now, a child leaving primary school in the summer will have been in a smaller class than those starting school today.”

Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith added: “The Scottish Government has made a series of pledges over the years on class sizes, and they have continually failed to implement them.

“The move to measure progress by pupil-teacher ratios reflects the fact that the class-size commitment was neither desirable nor deliverable.”

Pupils who need extra help up 90%

A COALITION of children’s groups has warned that education cuts are disadvantaging a generation of young people after figures showed a near 90 per cent increase in those with additional support needs over the past three years.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), which includes charities and advocacy groups, said a dramatic increase in those with conditions such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD had led to increased pressure on teachers.

Figures released yesterday by the Scottish Government showed there were 131,621 children with additional support needs in 2013, up from 69,587 in 2010, with the exclusion rate four times higher than in the school population as a whole.

A spokesman for the SCSC said: “We are conscious that the almost 90 per cent increase in those with additional support needs is due to greater awareness of these conditions, which is to be welcomed.

“Councils should not be contemplating cutting resourcing to these young people, the most vulnerable in our society, making a mockery of talk of early intervention, but working with the Scottish Government to increase it, providing the necessary support.”

Comment: Teachers will see this broken promise as a real betrayal

THE news that the number of Scottish teachers has fallen over the past year is extremely worrying, and raises serious questions over growing class sizes, commitments to nursery education with access to a teacher being maintained, and the capacity of schools to continue the successful implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.

The past few years have been difficult for all public sector services, including Scottish education, with reductions in school budgets, cuts to staff and shortages of resources.

During this period, teachers have made significant sacrifices to protect Scottish education and the interests of pupils in our schools. With patience and goodwill among the teaching profession wearing thin, the news that the commitment to maintain teacher numbers has now been broken will be seen by teachers as a real betrayal.

At the last local authority budget settlement, the Scottish Government made clear that the protection of teacher numbers was an integral part of the funding agreement.

The broken promise is bad news for pupils, parents and, of course, teachers; it should embarrass those in government who are responsible. It is a failure that calls into question a collective commitment to protecting the quality of school education and the successful delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence.

• Larry Flanagan is general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland