Education Scotland: New figures show further drop in Scottish teacher numbers despite SNP pledge

Attendance rates fall to record low, but primary attainment levels rise

Teacher numbers have fallen in Scotland again despite an SNP promise to recruit thousands of extra school staff.

Official statistics also confirm that pupil attendance rates have dropped to a record low in the last year, and exclusions remain below pre-pandemic levels.

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Meanwhile, record high attainment levels have been recorded in primary schools, despite plummeting results on world Pisa rankings, which measure the performance of 15-year-olds.

School pupils. David Jones/PA WireSchool pupils. David Jones/PA Wire
School pupils. David Jones/PA Wire

Ahead of the 2021 election, the SNP pledged to recruit 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants, but the overall number fell by 122 between 2021 and 2022, and has now dipped by another 160 full-time equivalents (FTE) in the last year.

There are now 54,033 FTE teachers, while pupil numbers decreased by 346.

The number of primary teachers was down by 354, but in secondary the figure was up 175 from 2022.

There was an overall decrease in 17 local authorities, with the largest proportional falls being 2.7 per cent in East Ayrshire, or 33 FTE teachers, followed by Glasgow City and Moray with reductions of 2 per cent, or 114 and 19 teachers respectively.

The Scottish Government has previously suggested councils which do not maintain teacher numbers will face financial penalties.

Despite the change, the pupil teacher ratio (PTR), which gives a measure of the size of the teaching workforce relative to the pupil population, remained at 13.2.

Class sizes also remained at similar levels, with averages in primary schools dropping slightly from 23.3 in 2022 to 23.2.

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The attendance rate in 2022/23 was 90.2 per cent, which is a decrease from 92 per cent in 2020/21, and the lowest rate since comparable figures began in 2003/04.

There were 11,676 cases of exclusion in 2022/23, which is 40 per cent higher than during the pandemic in 2020/21, but 22 per cent lower than 2018/19.

Amid an ongoing row over last week’s Pisa results, attainment figures for younger pupils appear to show improvement.

The Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) 2022/23 show that for numeracy, a total of 79.6 per cent of pupils reached the levels expected in 2022/23, a rise of 0.5 percentage points compared to the previous high of 79.1 per cent in 2018/19.

For literacy, an increase to 72.7 per cent was recorded, up on the previous high of 72.3 per cent in 2018/19

The 20.5-point gap last year between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas achieving expected levels in literacy was the lowest on record.

In numeracy, the a 17-point gap was slightly higher than the 16.8-point gap before the pandemic.

The figures also show improvements at secondary level compared to 2021/22, with increases in attainment across the board and the gap between those from most and least deprived areas reducing.

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ACEL statistics are based on teacher judgement and measure the performance of school pupils in Primary 1, Primary 4, Primary 7 and Secondary 3.

Lindsay Paterson, emeritus professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, said: “This annual report is next-to-useless, because the statistics which it contains are based on 'teacher judgement' with no indication of how that relates to any kind of objective measure.

"The results are thus akin to the education system's marking its own homework.

“This is not to impugn the judgement of teachers in their role of helping pupils to learn. We all, as teachers in whatever sector, have to be optimistic about our students.

"That itself is enough to bring into question any intuitive assessment we make of their achievements.

"Add to that the inevitable biases that we all, as teachers, harbour, and we ought to be suspicious of any summary of assessment that is not based on the kind of objective evidence that only surveys such as Pisa provide.

"For the Scottish Government to claim that this supersedes Pisa - as they do in their statement today - is either disingenuous or evidence of dismaying statistical ignorance."

Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Teachers are the backbone of Scotland’s education system, but after 16 years of SNP neglect it’s no surprise that many are leaving the profession and not being replaced.

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“The recent Pisa figures exposed the dire situation in many Scottish schools. Standards have fallen, violence has spiralled out of control and teachers are being subjected to horrific verbal and physical abuse.

"Many understandably feel that the SNP Government has stood by and allowed this to happen.

“Today’s figures also show that the poverty-related attainment gap – which the SNP vowed to eliminate years ago – remains stubbornly high.

“Teachers do a vital job, yet the SNP has left them overstretched and under-resourced. For the sake of our children’s education, it cannot continue."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie said: “Seven years on from Nicola Sturgeon’s defining mission on education there is virtually no progress to show for it. Scottish education has slipped down the international rankings after recording its worst ever scores and the poverty-related attainment gap is massive.

“The poverty-related attainment gap may have now returned to 2018/19 levels but that leaves the Scottish Government miles away from closing it by 2026, either completely or substantially.

“The SNP seem to have no clue why the gap isn’t closing and why performance overall has slipped."

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth, who is due to make a statement to Holyrood this afternoon, said: “These figures show record levels of attainment across primary school level and significant improvements in secondary.

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"I congratulate our pupils and teachers for their hard work over the last year.

“These findings are the most up to date statistics on attainment and are comprehensive across all publicly funded schools in Scotland, demonstrating a clear rise in standards above pre-pandemic levels among primary school pupils.

"Along with this year’s SQA results, they point to widespread rises in attainment.

“I recognise that there is no room for complacency and our programme of reform across the education and skills system will help identify where further improvements can be made and will look to drive enhanced attainment to ensure all young people meet their full potential.”

On teacher numbers, the education secretary added: “For the last two years, we have provided local authorities with £145.5 million of annual funding for the purpose of maintaining additional teachers and classroom assistants – this marked the biggest increase to support teacher recruitment since 2007.

"It is therefore disappointing to see that teacher numbers have decreased slightly. I have written to COSLA today to express my disappointment at this decline.

“My officials will be writing directly to those councils which have not maintained teacher numbers in line with the 2022 census to seek further information on the circumstances behind these reductions.

"I have been clear with councils that if teacher numbers were not maintained nationally in line with 2022 census figures, the Scottish Government may withhold or recoup funding which has been given for this purpose, subject to any mitigating circumstances councils may wish to present.

“It is important to note however that Scotland’s pupil teacher ratio has remained at 13.2 – which is the lowest figure in the UK.”



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