Row over teacher numbers in Argyll and Bute as council suggests cutting ‘extra’ staff

Argyll and Bute Council's HQ at Kilmory in Lochgilphead.
Argyll and Bute Council's HQ at Kilmory in Lochgilphead.

A row over the number of teachers employed by Argyll and Bute Council is set to be laid bare before a key council committee on Thursday.

The authority’s community services committee is due to consider a report on the council’s efforts to meet a commitment made to the Scottish Government to maintain teacher numbers for 2015-16 at last year’s level.

But the report’s publication coincided with the release of new statistics showing a significant drop in the number of teaching staff in Argyll and Bute over the last five years.

According to the new Scottish Government figures there were 847 teachers working for Argyll and Bute Council in September 2016, compared to 878 last year and 909 in 2010 - a fall of 3.53 per cent in the last 12 months and of almost 7 per cent in the last five years.

The council report says the authority could lose out on grant funding of around £895,000 for failing to meet its commitment to the Scottish Government - but that this could be mitigated by ‘deleting’ full-time equivalent posts held by supernumerary staff on temporary contracts.

According to the report, the council employs 36 more teachers than required under the law because of a fall in pupil numbers.

The report states: “Despite all efforts, the national teacher shortages exacerbated by the number of additional posts in urban authorities has meant that insufficient teachers could be recruited to meet that commitment.

“Efficient application of an equitable staffing model ensured that all classes in Argyll and Bute schools could be staffed.

“Should the sanction be applied it would be open to the Council to remove the supernumerary posts.

“All appointments to such posts have been made on a temporary basis to ensure no ongoing liability is incurred.”

The fall in teacher numbers in the area has, unsurprisingly, attracted negative comment from elected politicians, with SNP constituency MSP Michael Russell laying the blame at the council’s door and the Conservatives’ regional list MSP Jamie McGrigor pinning responsibility on the Scottish Government.

Mr Russell said: “Despite having lots of pupils eager to learn and families that value high quality local education Argyll and Bute has failed to prioritise the employment of valuable teaching staff.

“Now Dick Walsh and his administration wish to adopt a deliberate policy which will go even further and actually get rid of teachers. He and his colleagues are letting children, parents and teachers down.

“Their proposed recipe for the future of Argyll and Bute is one that will lead to continuing educational and economic decline which will also accelerate depopulation.

“Fewer teachers will result in poorer education without a shadow of a doubt. It will also increase stress on existing teaching staff and make it harder to recruit new teachers to work in local classrooms and ever more difficult to persuade others to take on promoted posts.”

Mr McGrigor said: “Constituents in Argyll and Bute will remember the SNP’s very specific pledge to maintain teacher numbers but the reality is the very reverse of this.

“ Given the radical changes to the curriculum which have recently been introduced and the ongoing challenge of trying to increase literacy and numeracy standards among pupils, we surely need additional teachers and not fewer.

“ The SNP government needs to get a grip on what is another very clear example of a failure to deliver in practice its rhetoric on education.”

The Scottish Government’s new statistics report that the ratio between pupils and teachers in Argyll and Bute has remained relatively constant over recent years, with a figure of 12.4 pupils per teacher in 2015-16 comparing to 12.2 in 2014-15, 12.4 in 2013-14 and 12.5 in 2012-13.

Those figures are slightly better than the average for all Scottish local authority schools, where the ratio was 13.7 in both 2015-16 and 2014-15 and 13.5 in the three years before that.