David O’Neill, president of Cosla, which represents Scotland’s 32 local authorities, has criticised a “harsh regime” under which failure to stick rigidly to teacher numbers and pupil-teacher ratios will mean heavy financial penalties.
Deputy first minister John Swinney has pledged councils a share of £51 million if they maintain both levels, but Mr O’Neill said the loss of one teacher would be treated the same as the loss of 50.
“My concern is that the harshness of this regime undoubtedly means there will be councils who in good faith accept Mr Swinney’s proposals, but are sanctioned in December due to circumstances they cannot control,” he wrote to education leaders after a crisis meeting with the SNP government.
“If a council fails to meet the exact number of teachers required, even by one teacher, the whole sanction of their share of the £51 million will be applied.
“Similarly, given changes in pupil numbers, if a council’s pupil-teacher ratio rises even minimally the whole sanction will be applied.
“No flexibility will be allowed to a council just because its existing ratio is well below the national average.”
“Most surprisingly”, he added, a council would lose the funding even if it could show the decline in teacher numbers or pupil ratio was the result of circumstances beyond its control.
The SNP has faced criticism for breaking a promise on teacher numbers, which have fallen sharply since it took power in 2007.
However, Mr Swinney has blamed local authorities, with Cosla arguing teacher numbers have no direct bearing on standards in the classroom.
Cosla has refused to sign the deal for the extra £51 million, leading Mr Swinney to invite individual authorities to commit to it by the end of last week, or lose their share of the total. About two in three councils were understood to have signed at the time SecEd went to press.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said it was committed to maintaining both teacher numbers and the pupil-teacher ratio.
“The deputy first minister made clear to Parliament two weeks ago that we would offer local authorities £51 million, including an additional
£10 million over and above last year’s settlement, specifically to support teacher numbers.
“Ministers have made clear that the conditions of the offer will not change and welcome the increasing number of local authorities who have indicated their interest in the offer.”