The number of nursery teachers has almost halved in Scotland over the last decade, according to new figures.
Analysis showed the number of teachers working in state-funded early learning and childcare was 1,386 in 2012 but this dropped to just 734 in 2022, representing a fall of 47%.
The Liberal Democrats say that more than five years after the Government pledged hundreds more staff would be taken on, the target has still not been met.
Education spokesman Willie Rennie blamed “years of SNP mismanagement” after hundreds more staff were pledged for the sector more than five years ago.
In January 2017, former first minister Nicola Sturgeon committed that an extra 435 graduates would be in place in nurseries by 2018, at the time insisting the move was “absolutely crucial to tackling the attainment gap”.
But the Lib Dems said figures from September 2021 show there were at that point 356 of the “equity and excellence leaders” in post – with 327 full-time equivalent (FTE) having been taken on.
Rennie said: “Through sheer persistence, Scottish Liberal Democrats persuaded the SNP of the value of expanding free early learning and childcare. Every part of the sector should be thriving.
“However, these figures show that specialist expertise has been drained from nurseries. Those with these qualifications have had their posts removed because they are too expensive to keep. We need them as part of the important mix of staff alongside other excellent team members.
“Children have missed out on so much. The poverty-related attainment gap has widened and both parents and teachers are struggling to see any solutions from this failing government.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to ensure that everyone achieves their potential in life, which is why we would invest in nursery education and reverse years of SNP mismanagement. We want to make Scottish education the best in the world again.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland has the most generous childcare offer for families of anywhere in the UK and a crucial part of that is our highly skilled early learning and childcare (ELC) workforce, which has expanded by over 8,000 since 2017. The number of graduate level ELC staff has also increased by 1,111 between 2017 and 2022, to a total of 3,427.
“For the past two years, all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds have been able to access 1,140 hours of funded ELC, which saves families an average of £5,000 per child annually. Being able to access this high quality care is a corner-stone of narrowing the poverty related attainment gap.”