Extra teachers to tackle gap in attainment is ‘smoke and mirrors’

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:

A scheme to tackle the attainment gap in Scotland by employing 1,000 extra teachers is “smoke and mirrors” because hundreds of them are on temporary contracts, an opposition politician has said.

The £750 million Scottish Attainment Fund was launched in 2015 by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, to boost the resources of councils with the biggest numbers of disadvantaged pupils.

The Pupil Equity Fund, which is part of the scheme, goes straight to schools and can be spent at headteachers’ discretion.

In December, John Swinney, the education secretary, welcomed figures showing hundreds of new staff were employed as a result, with overall teacher numbers up to 51,138 after a rise of 447 the previous year. However, 44 per cent of the 1,000 new teachers taken on are without permanent contracts, raising doubts over job security and the sustainability of the project.

Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire and Argyll are among councils where more than three-quarters of the new posts are temporary. Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Green Party, which uncovered the figures, said: “Teaching posts created through attainment funding are, by the government’s own rules, not replacements for the thousands of core teaching staff cut over recent years. Now we find that the number and proportion of these posts which are temporary has gone up.

“Despite the SNP’s smoke and mirrors routine, this is just not what our schools need. Headteachers are unable to plan ahead due to funding uncertainty and skilled staff are left in insecure positions.

“This is a paper-over-the-cracks arrangement. They know it does not compensate for a decade of funding cuts and the resulting loss of permanent teachers and additional support needs staff.”

Mr Greer called on the Scottish government to end the “hand to mouth” funding arrangements for councils and schools.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said: “We have repeatedly raised concerns over the temporary nature of many teaching posts funded through Pupil Equity Funding. These posts, valuable though they are, are short-term only and so not guaranteed to be retained in future years. These posts were always intended to be an additional resource on top of the existing teacher workforce, and cannot be viewed as a replacement for permanent teaching posts.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We would encourage local authorities to employ teachers on full-time contracts and have given an absolute commitment to the Attainment Scotland fund over this Parliamentary session.

“There is obviously regular turnover within the teaching profession. Vacancies arise and can be filled as and when they do and the arguments to make more of those posts permanent are compelling.”

A spokesman for council umbrella body Cosla said: “This is a perfect illustration of why the Pupil Equity Fund gives neither councils nor employees the security we need.”


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