A SHORTAGE of supply teachers in Scottish schools is getting significantly worse, according to a new survey.

A poll of the country's 32 councils found more than two thirds believed the situation had deteriorated in the past year.

The shortfall was most acute in primary schools where 20 councils said they had difficulties, while half had problems in secondary.

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The report states: "Primary and secondary was flagged as a consistent area of difficulty for the majority of authorities, with many reporting it was very difficult to provide sufficient cover at the moment.

"Most authorities also reported a declining position compared with previous years. Many reported issues across all sectors, citing primary school cover in particular."

The survey also uncovered more acute problems in some subject areas including sciences and mathematics, home economics, technical studies, computing and business.

The shortage in supply staff stems from a controversial package of cuts agreed by the Scottish Government and council umbrella body Cosla in 2011 which introduced a cut to pay rates for supply teachers as part of wider measures to save £45 million.

The move, which was backed by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union at the time, meant short-term supply staff had to work at a rate of £78 a day for their first five consecutive days before their pay rose to the normal rate of £145.

The Government said the deal was the best that could have been done and that it protected frontline teaching jobs, but it quickly became apparent that it was leading to shortages as supply staff looked at better paid alternatives.

Since then pay has been increased, but the problem has been exacerbated by more widespread teacher shortages because many in the profession are reaching retirement age.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the supply teacher shortage was being covered up in schools.

He said: "Schools are putting a number of classes in school halls at the same time supervised by a member of the senior management team and on some occasions up to four classes could be supervised this way.

"This tends to happen to the junior classes in secondary schools because priority is given to classes that are working towards qualifications, but it is not good for the pupils or members of staff.

"These situations just increases frustration and a break to normal school order that leads to an increase in poor behaviour which, in turn, leads to extra demands upon teachers in restoring good learning practice and motivation."

Councils have looked at a number of solutions to offset the crisis including collaborating across local authority boundaries and setting up a national service.

A spokesman for council body Cosla said: “Councils, the teaching unions and the Scottish Government have been working together to identify practical answers to issues associated with the availability of supply teachers.

"This most recent information shows that councils are taking forward a range of new practices aimed at making the best use of the resources that are available, and this work will continue towards a solution that is suitable to all."