There were 729 vacant teaching posts at the start of the school year across primary and secondary schools, with rural areas in particular struggling to fill posts in key academic subjects such as English, maths and science. The figures, obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under freedom of information rules, will fuel the debate over whether local authorities are being adequately funded to carry out their responsibilities.
Argyll and Bute Council had the largest number of vacant teaching posts on 9 August, the week before classes started, with 139 full-time equivalent primary school positions unfilled and a further 61 secondary school teachers needing to be recruited.
Aberdeenshire Council was short by 16 primary and 27 secondary teachers, and Borders Council was missing 30 primary and 17 secondary teachers.
The Lib Dems want to raise income tax by a penny to invest £500 million in education.
Lib Dem education spokesman Tavish Scott said: “As the school year started, schools across Scotland have been desperately trying to find qualified permanent staff. Thousands of pupils faced the prospect of going back to school without a dedicated class teacher in place.
“This can only increase pressure on other teachers and make life more difficult for those pupils who need the most support. More than 4,000 teachers have been lost on the SNP’s watch.”
A spokesman for Cosla, the body that represents most of Scotland’s councils, said there was “a particular problem in rural areas that needs addressed”.
Analysis by the Fraser of Allander Institute suggests council budgets face a £1 billion cut by 2021 because of other spending commitments. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “While it is ultimately the responsibility of individual local authorities, the Scottish Government is taking a number of actions to help recruit and retain teachers. We are spending £88m this year to make sure every school has access to the right number of teachers.
“Where there is an issue, this tends to be in specific areas where local factors, such as house prices, can be an important part of the problem.”