Malcolm discusses the falling number of teachers in Scottish schools
Debate on education, school rolls, classroom sizes and teacher numbers Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
Nothing is more important to the future of Scotland than the education of our children. For that reason, maintaining teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls seemed to be one of the better policies of the Scottish Government. However, infuriatingly, the minister gave no explanation of why the Government has failed by a figure of 1,000 to achieve that objective. Instead, he trumpeted the so-called record resources to local government. In effect, he blamed local government for the failure.

As Rhona Brankin reminded him, 12 of the 13 SNP councils have failed, including the City of Edinburgh Council. The case of Edinburgh is particularly worrying, because the city does not have a falling school roll. In fact, over the next 10 years, primary school rolls in Edinburgh will increase by 20 per cent.

As it happens, the cabinet secretary has been talking quite a bit about Edinburgh recently. Last night she gave a television interview, but perhaps it would best be left in obscurity. In answer to a question that I put to her last week, she said:

"the City of Edinburgh Council ... should be making efforts to reduce class sizes ... it wants to concentrate on areas of deprivation where, as we know, having smaller class sizes gives schools the space and time to raise standards of literacy and numeracy in those who will benefit most." - [Official Report, 17 September 2009; c 19743.] Click here to read full answer.

A couple of weeks ago, George Foulkes and I had a meeting with the City of Edinburgh Council education convener on the council's school closure proposals. We asked her whether the council had built class sizes of 18 into its proposal. We expected a long and detailed answer, but she just said, "No."

The school closure proposals in Edinburgh will result in larger class sizes, including in areas of deprivation. Fort primary school in my constituency has the largest percentage of pupils who take free school meals of any school in Edinburgh. In spite of that, the school is 10 per cent above similar schools in terms of attainment. The proposal to close Fort primary school will result in £145,000 of savings in teacher costs. In other words, if the school is closed, the result will be a higher pupil teacher ratio in the larger school that the Fort pupils will go to.

Of course, I understand the arguments about saving money spent on maintaining school buildings; sometimes there is an argument for closing schools for that reason. However, I have never come across a school closure document that seeks to make two thirds of revenue savings from cutting staff. In Edinburgh, school closures are being used as a mechanism for cutting teacher posts. In my constituency, the result will be larger classes and overfilled schools. I made the point at a public meeting last night on Royston primary school, which is also up for closure.

As we have seen in the debate today, and not for the first time, there is an enormous gap between the SNP Government's policies and the reality on the ground. The policy, which we keep hearing about, including on television last night, is for year-on-year reductions in class sizes and maintaining teacher numbers. However, every day across Scotland, the reality contradicts the policy. It is time for the Scottish Government to remember that nothing is more important for the future of Scotland than the education of our children.

S3M-4910 Rhona Brankin:
Teacher Numbers - That the Parliament notes the most recent reduction in the number of teachers employed in Scotland revealed by the September 2009 public sector employment figures;
further notes that this follows on from the Teachers in Scotland 2008 census, which showed that the number of teachers fell by nearly 1,000 on the previous year, and asks how this can be reconciled with the SNPís manifesto pledge and concordat commitment to maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls in order to cut class sizes;
highlights with concern the Times Educational Supplement Scotland survey, published in August 2009, suggesting that only 15% of this yearís newly qualified teachers had secured full-time permanent work at the start of the school term as well as the General Teaching Council Scotland follow up survey suggesting that, even half way through the 2008-09 school year, only around a third of the previous yearís probationary teachers had found full-time permanent posts;
believes that the Scottish Government has precipitated a teacher jobs crisis, forcing many of the most qualified new teachers in Scotlandís history to look elsewhere in the United Kingdom or beyond for suitable employment;
believes that this represents an appalling loss of talent to Scotlandís education system and a gross betrayal of those enticed to train as teachers as well as those who voted SNP due to its election pledges on schools, and therefore calls on the SNP government to publish detailed plans of how it will deliver on its manifesto and concordat commitments on teacher numbers.
September 24th 2009, (Column 19914-6)