The councillor responsible for schools in the Borders has refused to give a guarantee that teacher numbers will not fall further in the years ahead.
Sandy Aitchison, executive member for education, told the December meeting of Scottish Borders Council that future staffing levels in the region’s 63 primaries and nine secondaries would be influenced by several factors.
“It depends on pupil numbers, demographic trends and the direction of the Scottish Government which is undergoing changes at the top of education,” said Councillor Aitchison.
The Borders Party member was commenting before figures were released showing that SBC now employs a total of 1,089 teachers - 141 fewer than it did in 2007.
He had been asked by Conservative councillor Simon Mountford for the current average pupil/teacher ratios (PTRs) in our schools.
Mr Aitchison said the primary PTR in 2014 was 17.2 and was thus within the Scottish Government’s so far unattained national target of 18. Indeed, only 13% of the nation’s children are now in classes of fewer than 18.
Mr Aitchison revealed that the secondary PTR was 13.4 – just within the Scottish secondary average class size of 13.5.
Mr Mountford observed: “It seems we are getting perilously close to exceeding the Scottish Government target of 18 in primary, so I ask for an assurance that there will be no further reduction in teacher numbers.”
“I’m afraid I cannot give that guarantee,” said Mr Aitchison, “but what I can say is that, compared to other areas of Scotland, I think the Borders is in a very good place. I, for one, will do my utmost to keep primary classes below 18.”
The fall in teacher numbers was highlighted this week by Conservative MSP John Lamont who blamed the Scottish Government for the trend.
“The plummeting number of teachers in the Borders since 2007 shows just how badly the SNP has taken its eye off the ball,” said Mr Lamont.
“Classes are getting bigger as nearly 150 posts have been lost in the Borders in the past few years. The concern is that in bigger classes teachers will not be able to dedicate as much time as they like to their pupils.”
Responding, a council spokesperson conceded that teacher numbers had dropped in the region.
“However, this is reflective of reducing pupil numbers and pupil/teacher ratios in the Borders have consistently been similar to the Scottish average. Although the ratio is an important factor, so is the quality of the pupil/teacher experience and therefore a top priority for us remains supporting our staff in their professional development.”
Mr Aitchison added: “Education is too important to be a political football and we at SBC are committed to raising attainment and achievement at every level.”