Teacher Numbers

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

8. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the number of teachers in post. (S5O-04170)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Statistics that were published on 10 December 2019 show that the number of teachers has increased for the fourth year in a row, rising to 52,247 in 2019. There are now more teachers than at any time since 2009, and the ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2013. The number of primary teachers is at its highest since 1980.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

Although there has been a small increase in the number of teachers compared to last year, the pupil teacher ratio remains unchanged. What is the cabinet secretary doing to address the fact that the number of probationers who achieve a full-time teaching post has fallen by 7 per cent? That is the first time it has fallen since 2013.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Obviously, that is one of the fraught issues in workforce planning. We have to estimate the number of candidates whom it is responsible to bring into the education profession in order to provide suitable opportunities for individuals to seek employment and so that there is appropriate choice for public authorities in selecting individuals. That will never be an exact science, but we are trying to ensure that we have a flow of sufficient teachers joining the teaching profession.

I am very pleased that the number of teachers is at its highest since 2009. That is a very strong platform on which to deliver education for young people in Scotland. We continue to keep under review the intake into initial teacher education, and we will take decisions according to the presence of teachers in the teaching workforce.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There are two supplementary questions. I ask members to be brief.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The cabinet secretary knows that many—if not most—of the recent new teaching posts are on fixed-term contracts because they are funded by the pupil equity fund. Does he agree that that brings an undesirable uncertainty into the profession? What will he do to address that?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I accept that that brings an undesirable and unnecessary uncertainty. Pupil equity funding has been provided to schools on a sustained basis, Scottish attainment challenge resources have been provided for a longer period and, indeed, the timescale for pupil equity funding and the Scottish attainment challenge has been extended by a further year.

I would have thought it reasonable for local authorities to provide full-time contracts for the individuals affected, because there should be adequate turnover in the natural turnover of teaching staff in our education system to enable us to accommodate any strain that might come from that issue. However, these are matters for local authorities to take forward. The Parliament often advises me to restrain the direction that I issue to local authorities, but I gently encourage local authorities to deliver full-time contracts in those circumstances.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Local authority-level Opposition members often demand autonomy to decide how many teachers to provide. However, if the Scottish Government provides additional funding and Opposition councils cut teacher numbers, Tory MSPs such as Alexander Stewart are among the first to blame that on the Government. Does the cabinet secretary share my view that the Opposition cannot have it both ways?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Gibson makes a very fair point, as he does on many things. It is important that the Government is providing resources to local authorities that have enabled us to get to a point at which we have the highest number of teachers in our schools in a decade. That is a really welcome and strong position. I am glad to have had such enthusiastic support from Mr Gibson in taking forward that policy position, and I look forward to that having a positive effect on education around the country.