First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her Government would “act to protect teacher numbers” in the face of widespread saving drives by councils trying to balance their budgets for the year ahead. But the local government body, which is seeking legal advice on the issue, stressed the “unworkable” proposals would bring the axe down on other frontline services to make ends meet.
The Scotsman can reveal at least five local authorities – Argyll & Bute, Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, Midlothian and North Ayrshire – have proposed cutting teaching posts as part of efficiencies. In light of the Government’s vow to protect those positions, however, it is unclear where the savings will come from.
Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has confirmed she is looking at measures to protect teacher numbers and hours within Scotland’s schools, pointing to the Government’s commitment to tackle the attainment gap.
She said: “The Scottish Government will take steps to ensure that the funding that we are providing to councils to maintain increased numbers of teachers delivers that outcome. Further detail will be set out to the Scottish Parliament in the coming days.”
It is understood measures under consideration include new regulations under the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, which would see councils incur financial penalties were they to fail to comply with current pupil-teacher ratios.
In a joint statement, Katie Hagmann, Cosla’s resources spokeswoman, and Tony Buchanan, its spokesman for children and young people, said the proposals would have an impact elsewhere, with cuts and job losses required from “already hard pressed everyday essential services,” such as roads, libraries, and waste collection.
They hit out: “This is an unnecessary and unwanted attack and intervention on our democratic mandate as elected politicians in our own right. We are seeing potentially unworkable proposals foisted on us without any prior discussion or consultation with local government – proposals we will be seeking legal advice on.
“We believe the teacher census information, which can only ever be a single snapshot in time, does not present the whole picture. It does not reflect that the attainment gap is moving in a positive direction or that we have recruited between August and December 620 teachers permanently and a further 400-plus on either a temporary or fixed-term basis.”
They added: “This move will not stop councils from being forced to make reductions in the support we provide to children and young people. Local authorities will have to consider cutting pupil support staff, libraries, youth work and other vital services that support the attainment, health and wellbeing of children and young people.”
It comes as an analysis by The Scotsman of saving options prepared by around a quarter of councils so far highlights the impact of the cuts, with sports and leisure facilities set to be hit hard, and prized cultural venues also in the firing line.