Schools are missing a “lost generation” of teachers who have turned their backs on the profession, it has been claimed.
The Scottish Conservatives said teachers between the ages of 43 and 60 were leaving in droves, taking their significant experience with them.
Figures collated by the Tories show between 2004 and 2018 the number of teachers fell by almost 4,000.
But despite increases in most of the other age groups, the 43 to 60-year-old age range had decreased by 12,896 over the same period.
The number of 20 to 30-year-old teachers have increased by more than 3,000. Teachers aged from 30 to 40 have risen in number by 4,848 since 2004.
Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: “Most worrying are the high numbers leaving in their early 50s when, in previous generations, there was a much higher rate of retention. It is this retention issue which is as much a concern as the fall in the number of teachers in our schools, which has taken place while the SNP has been in power.
“There are some encouraging signs of increased recruitment in the younger years, but that does not compensate for the huge loss of older and more experienced teachers.
“This loss ties in with the difficulties of recruiting heads and deputy heads – something that is worrying both local authorities and the teaching unions.”
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said declining pay must be addressed, adding: “The EIS warned the Scottish Government that a combination of pension changes, excessive workload and a lack of promotion opportunity would create a significant retention challenge, especially amongst those teachers being forced to work to age 68-plus, rather than the retirement age of 60 for which they had signed up.”
But a Scottish Government spokesman said: “This is wrong and not supported by the facts. Teacher numbers are now the highest since 2010, with primary teachers at the highest level since 1980.
“We want to keep people in the profession and to attract new entrants into teaching.
“That’s why we have increased targets for recruitment into initial teacher education, created new routes to make it more practical and flexible for people to access courses and run a teacher recruitment marketing campaign.”
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