Schools pupil-staff ratios rise to 8-year high

Pupil-staff ratios are at an eight-year high. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Pupil-staff ratios are at an eight-year high. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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CROWDING pressures in the Capital’s classrooms have reached record highs as new figures show teacher numbers have fallen despite rising rolls.

A fresh fall in the overall number of school teachers – from 3212 in 2013 to 3159 last year – has helped drive pupil-staff ratios to eight-year highs, and classrooms here are second only to their East Lothian counterparts in nationwide league tables.

And headteachers have been ordered to fit as many children as possible into classes in a bid to alleviate the strain, according to union chiefs.

Leaders at the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, warned increasing classes to maximum limits would mean that pupils moving home mid-term face refusal from catchment schools, while enrolled youngsters are more likely to be taught in composite classes containing children of different age groups.

High schools will also be affected, with increasing numbers set to be “trafficked” between schools and colleges for less popular subjects.

And it is feared many courses could disappear from timetables entirely.

New evidence of the pressure bearing down on schools comes amid an escalating row between councils and the Scottish Government, with Deputy First Minister John Swinney accused of acting illegally by threatening to cut funding to local authorities unless they give a “clear commitment to protect teacher numbers”.

EIS officials warned Edinburgh’s schools were being damaged by a swathe of “hidden” cuts, despite assurances frontline services would be protected as the city battles to save £67 million by 2017-18.

Alison Thornton, EIS Edinburgh secretary, said: “There are reductions that continue to be made as a result of previous budget decisions and are to a degree ‘hidden’ from the wider public knowledge.

“Maximum class sizes are regulated by agreements, reached at the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, but there now is a clear directive, within this council, that headteachers must form classes to these maximum class sizes, across all sectors and additionally in the case of secondary schools, removing subjects that are not chosen by a significant number of pupils from the timetable.”

She added: “Both these have had and continue to have the consequences of a reduction in the number of teachers employed in Edinburgh.”

Scottish Government figures show there are around 15 pupils for every teacher in Edinburgh’s schools – the highest in eight years. And campuses here are second only to their East Lothian counterparts in Scotland-wide league tables, with the two authorities recording pupil-teacher ratios of 14.9 and 15.2 respectively.

Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative at the National Parent Forum, said: “There’s plenty of evidence showing that a high adult-to-child ratio clearly makes a difference, particularly for children who struggle. “You need a tiny ratio for that – one-to-one sometimes, or one-to-three, or small group work. There needs to be some serious investment in our schools.”

City bosses said they were working hard to ensure there is enough space to accommodate rapid growth in pupil numbers and that they were not aware of any official policy change on class organisation.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Overall we expect teacher numbers to rise in line with increased pnumbers of upils.

“Last year we saw a small fall in the number of secondary teachers in our schools due to a small decrease in secondary pupil numbers and a rise in those teachers in primary schools given the ongoing increase in primary numbers.”

An East Lothian Council spokesman said: “Our classes all sit within the current legislation governing class size. We adhere to guidance relating to class sizes of 18 wherever we can. However, at the same time, we have to accommodate local demand and parental wishes.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com