Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that the Scottish Government will step in to prevent councils cutting teacher numbers to save money.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said any move to cut teachers – which would be against an SNP election promise to increase numbers by more than 3,500 – “would not be acceptable”.
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, the First Minister said, will outline the steps to be taken by the Government in Parliament “in the coming days”.
Councils are currently devising their spending plans for the year ahead, with many looking to make savings.
Speculative plans have already been drawn up by Glasgow City Council to cut 800 teaching positions, with closing primary schools early on Fridays also floated as a possibly way to help deal with its £68 million funding shortfall.
But Ms Sturgeon said “The Government will act to protect teacher numbers, this Government has a commitment to increase teacher numbers and indeed councils are being given additional funding specifically to deliver that.
“It would not be acceptable to me or to the Scottish Government to see teacher numbers fall.
“I can confirm, therefore, that the Government does intend to take steps to ensure that the funding we are providing to councils to maintain and increase numbers of teachers actually delivers that outcome and the Education Secretary will set out more details to Parliament in the coming days.”
The Scottish budget is set to give a £550 million cash terms boost to local authorities, but council umbrella body Cosla has said that figure could be as low as £71 million when ring-fenced Government initiatives are accounted for.
Scotland’s largest teaching union – which is currently locked in a dispute with Government and councils over pay – has supported the Government pledge to avert teacher cuts, but said it should be backed by more funding.
EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said: “While this suggested intervention by the Scottish Government is welcome, it is the persistent under-funding and under-resourcing of Scottish education that has led to this situation in the first place.
“The Scottish Government needs to fund local authorities better, including a return to ring-fenced budgets for the delivery of education.”
Speaking to journalists at a briefing following First Minister’s Questions, a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said she “respects councils’ autonomy”, but the Government expects funding provided for a “specific function” to be used for that.
A spokesman for Cosla said the body would respond to the move after council leaders meet on Friday.
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