More than £185 million has been spent in recent years to meet the growing cost of supply teachers in Scotland as classroom vacancies continue to mount.
In the past year over £60m was paid by councils to cover supply teachers filling in at schools across tens of thousands of days, with the bill rising by almost £1m in 2018, a Freedom of Information request by The Scotsman has found.
And more than £100,000 was taken from the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) – Scottish Government cash set aside to close the attainment gap in schools – prompting fears that the money is simply plugging teacher shortages.
Last night Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Local authorities are being forced to plug the gaps caused by the SNP’s inability to recruit and retain more teachers.
“This reliance on supply teachers also fails to provide children with the consistency that they need, and gives head teachers significant challenges.
The highest pay-out was in Glasgow – the country’s biggest council – with a bill of more than £15m in 2017/18 – a rise of £1.5m on the previous year.
Supply teachers are hired when schools cannot fill teaching post and can charge almost £200 a day in some parts of the country.
The rise in their cost comes after recent figures showed there are almost 700 teaching vacancies across Scotland, including head and deputy head posts, while thousands of positions have been re-advertised as schools struggle to fill roles.
Teaching union the EIS said the cost highlights a “crisis” in teacher recruitment in Scotland.
“There are occasions when using supply teachers is an appropriate option, eg short- term illness,” a spokeswoman said.
“Having to use supply teachers to cover vacancies, however, is just one example of the effects of the current recruitment and retention crisis facing Scottish education.
“The lack of supply cover in many areas is a further example of the staffing challenge facing schools. In order to make teaching an attractive career option, issues of severe workload and declining pay must be addressed.”
The number of teachers in Scotland’s schools has fallen by more than 3,000 since the SNP came to power to fewer than 52,000. Numbers have been rising again more recently, with a jump of 450 last year.
The cost of supply teachers across the country was £65m in 2015/16, the figures obtained by The Scotsman show. This dropped to £60.5m the following year, but then increased by £900,000 to £61.4m in 2017/18.
Highland is among the areas which has had particular problems in recruiting teachers and saw a dramatic increase of more than a third on supply costs, rising to £2.7m last year (17/18) from £1.9m the previous year.
This included £117,000 from the PEF fund which had been established with the aim of providing additional resources for schools on top of core funds. It has previously emerged that the fund was being used by schools in South Lanarkshire to pay for teachers.
North Lanarkshire had the next biggest bill for supply costs behind Glasgow, with £9.4m paid out last year, although this was down by £1m compared with the previous year.
Renfrewshire faced costs of with £4.4m in 2017/18, although this also represented a fall of £1.3m.
Clackmannanshire had the lowest bill of £370,000 across Scotland.
“The SNP must recruit and retain more teachers to provide children and schools with the certainty they need.”
The information was obtained after 25 of Scotland’s 32 council responded to a freedom of information request seeking details of the amount they paid out and how many teachers they employed.
Thousands of supply teachers have been used by schools across the country over the past year, the figures show. In Glasgow there were 941 teachers used throughout last year while in Highland the figure was 437.
Aberdeen used 214 teachers in 2017/18, while in Renfrewshire there were 209 used throughout the year.
Even at one of the lower paying councils, Angus, this amounted over 2,000 days of cover last year. The daily rate of pay varies among councils but can be as high as £195.
A spokesman for local government body Cosla said: “The role of supply teachers was never envisaged as a means to address the vacancies that councils are struggling to fill at this time.”
“We recognise the impact on supply to cover vacancies in certain areas is placing a pressure on access on supply for what is its recognised purpose – to provide short term cover. This is a concern we share with Scottish Government and that it is not a sustainable option going forward.”