Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw hit out at the First Minister, claiming there had been a “massive reduction” in the number of pupils taking modern languages in the senior years of secondary.
He pressed her on the issue after Gayle Gorman, the head of Education Scotland, conceded to MSPs that teacher shortages were limiting the number of subjects pupils can take.
Mr Carlaw raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions today, saying: “We know that subject choice in Scottish schools has narrowed significantly under the SNP.
“And we know schools say that a lack of teachers, fewer in every single year this government has been in office, has been a core reason.”
He told the First Minister that whereas previously pupils could study up to eight subjects in S4, this had now been cut to six in most schools.
Ms Sturgeon stressed it was important to look at the number of qualifications teenagers leave school with, rather than just how many they obtain in S4.
She said: “The general phase of education now goes on to third year, which is longer, there is a broader range of qualifications and other awards now available.”
The most recent statistics show the number of schools leavers who had at least a level 5 qualification – the equivalent of a standard grade at credit level – had increased from just over 71 per cent when the SNP came to power in 2007 to 85.9 per cent.
Over the same period the percentage of youngsters with a level 6 qualification – Higher or equivalent – had gone from 41.6 per cent to 61.2 per cent.
Mr Carlaw said her answer showed the First Minister was “in denial”.
“Three-quarters of schools say that a lack of teachers is constraining subject choice to some extent or a great deal,” he said.
“No matter what spin she puts on it, teacher numbers are down under the SNP, down by 3,100.
“Isn’t it simply the case that if you cut teacher numbers you restrict the subjects pupils can take?”
Ms Sturgeon said teacher numbers had been rising since she became First Minister in 2014, adding the number of primary teachers was now at its highest since she was in primary school.
“In terms of teacher vacancies, the number of vacancies and the subjects they are in will vary from time to time but generally vacancy numbers are down in our schools,” she said.
“In terms of teacher numbers since I became First Minister, teacher numbers have increased in Scotland by 1,242.
“We have the highest number of teachers in our schools now since 2010, we have the highest number of primary school teachers since 1980.
“And of course the recent pay award for teachers will help us recruit and retain teachers even further.”
She argued: “What we have to judge our education system by is not the number of qualification in one particular year but what young people are coming out of school with.
“We also see record numbers going into university, including record numbers from our deprived areas going into university, so these are all positive developments.”