Nicola Sturgeon slammed over ‘3-year’ teaching vacancies

Kezia Dugdale attacked the SNP's education record
Kezia Dugdale attacked the SNP's education record
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The “national shortage” of teachers in schools across Scotland could last up to three years, internal government documents have revealed.

It comes just days before pupils across the country begin sitting their national and Higher exams and has prompted opposition warnings that teachers are “crying out for help” as 700 posts lie vacant.

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale yesterday accused Nicola Sturgeon of neglecting her core responsibilities in running Scotland’s devolved services in order to focus on a second independence referendum during the election

Ms Sturgeon insisted that education is her “top priority” as she addressed MSPs at First Minister’s Questions yesterday.

The SNP leader has previously told Scots she wants to be judged on her record in education and particularly driving down the “attainment gap” between well-off and poorer areas of the country.

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But Ms Dugdale told the First Minister there are 700 teacher vacancies in Scotland – as they clashed in Holyrood yesterday – after cuts of £170 million to local council services. The Labour leader said: “If­education was her top priority then she would be listening to the teachers across Scotland who are crying out for help.”

She added: “The government’s own internal documents admit that it could take up to three years to fill these vacancies – three years for the government to ensure there are enough teachers to educate our children, three years to clean up the mess the SNP have been making for the past ten, three years to give our young people a fair chance in life.

“But we know that Nicola Sturgeon will spend the next three years campaigning for independence and trying to force another divisive referendum.”

The last teacher census conducted in September last year showed there were 274 primary and pre-School teacher vacancies in Scotland, along with 411 secondary posts lying unfilled.

An internal letter from ministers to the Scottish Funding Council published by Labour yesterday states: “This teacher vacancy information has been built in to the statistical modelling process with a view to attempting to address all primary vacancies in one year and using a phased approach over three years for secondary.”

An email which has been circulated to parents at Edinburgh’s Blackhall Primary School, by acting head teacher Lesley Liddle, was also disclosed yesterday by Labour which sounded a warning over recruitment. Ms Liddle states: “As you may be aware there’s currently a national shortage of teachers. This is making it challenging for headteachers around the country who are trying to fill vacant posts or indeed cover classes.”

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Overall teacher numbers have dropped by more than 4,000 in Scotland since the SNP took office a decade ago and the most recent Pisa international league tables showed performance among Scots pupils in the three key areas of maths, reading and science has deteriorated.

Ms Sturgeon admitted there was a “challenge” in recruiting new teachers, but said Scotland is not unique.

She added: “We’re making resources available to train an additional 371 teachers. It’s why the general teaching council right now has a number of initiatives under way to encourage people back into teaching.

“These are the actions we are taking to tackle what is a problem and a challenge for many countries and we’re doing that of course in conjunction with our national improvement framework, with our Attainment Fund, putting extra resources into the hands of headteachers.

“Our commitment to raising attainment and closing that attainment gap is absolute.”

Education secretary John Swinney is also poised to bring forward proposals to overhaul the education system which would hand greater control to headteachers.