Union leaders have accused the Scottish Government of “persistent underfunding” of education – claiming there is now a “crisis” in the recruitment and retention of teachers as a result.
Leaders of the NASUWT trade union also claimed ministers have failed to tackle problems faced by teachers, including their “excessive” workload and “serious violence and abuse from pupils”.
Dr Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, spoke out as teachers took part in the NASUWT Scottish conference in Aberdeen.
The event will be addressed by Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth on Saturday, and comes in the wake of strike action by teachers, which closed schools across Scotland before a new deal was reached on pay.
Official figures showed teacher numbers fell last year for the first time since 2016, with data for 2022 showing there were 54,193 full time equivalent teachers in Scotland’s schools.
The NASUWT also claimed only one of Scotland’s 32 councils last year offered more permanent contracts than temporary places to teachers who had just completed their post probation year
Dr Roach insisted while the Scottish Government “talked tough” about imposing financial sanctions on councils that failed to maintain pupil/teacher ratios, schools were still facing a “crisis in teacher recruitment and retention”.
The union’s general secretary said: “The reality is that the Scottish Government’s persistent underfunding of education, along with the failure to tackle excessive teacher workload, serious violence and abuse from pupils and the real-terms erosion of salaries has led to the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.”
Dr Roach claimed the government “failed take the opportunity to put in place the positive and progressive” measures, which he said could have helped teachers develop their careers “making a job in teaching more attractive and sustainable for both new recruits and experienced teachers”.
He added: “Without a recommitment from government and employers to these principles, schools are going to find it even tougher to recruit and retain the teachers needed to maintain our children’s education.”
Meanwhile, Mike Corbett, NASUWT national official for Scotland, hit out: “The current crisis in teacher recruitment and retention is the result of a short-sighted and short-termist approach to securing the supply of teachers.
“The latest figures from the Scottish Government indicate that just one in 32 local authorities successfully offered more permanent contracts than temporary placement to post-probation teachers last year.
“This is a failure to invest in the future of the profession.
“The impact of insecure employment, spiralling workloads and declining working conditions are playing out in our schools every day as they find it harder and harder to fill vacancies.
“Ultimately, it is pupils who are paying the price and that cost will only get bigger unless ministers and employers show some ambition for our education system.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson stressed that Scotland has “the highest teacher-per-pupil ratio compared to any other part of the UK”.
The spokesperson said: “It’s also worth pointing out that education spend per pupil is higher than in England and Wales – this means that in 2022-2023 the Scottish Government spent over £8,500 per pupil, over 18% or £1,300 higher than spending in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
“Of course, ministers are committed to recruiting more teachers and support staff. Retention of teachers is absolutely key and undoubtedly the historic pay settlement reached earlier this year will go some way to achieving that aspiration.
“Classroom teachers on the main-grade scale in Scotland are the best paid in the UK. But it is also important that Government listens to our teachers about the challenges outwith the pay deal – the culture in our schools has changed post-Covid and ministers need to be sure that the reform agenda we have set out will rise to meet that challenge for our young people.
“Notwithstanding, we are providing £145.5m in this year’s budget to protect increased teacher numbers and where this is not being delivered by a local authority, we will withhold or recoup funding which has been given for this purpose.”