PUPILS studying for crucial exams are increasingly having to take responsibility for teaching themselves because of a lack of school staff, a report has warned.

Council officials said shortages meant a reduction in teaching periods for those studying Advanced Highers - with some expected to undertake “significant amounts of self-directed study”.

The warning is contained in a report on the impact of teacher shortages by the Association of Directors of Education Scotland (ADES) for the Scottish Parliament.

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The ADES paper goes on to highlight other concerns including greater use of online distance learning, the teaching of multiple qualifications in the same class and the use of non-specialists for secondary subjects.

The report states: "While some of these measures are introduced reluctantly, they are preferable to the alternative of courses not being offered.

"Unless solutions can be found as a matter of urgency, it is difficult to see how a negative impact on the quality of education in Scottish schools can be avoided.”

The report is published at a time when teacher recruitment has emerged as a significant issue across Scotland with shortages in key subject areas such as science, maths and computing as well as in rural areas.

Herald research showed there were more than 700 unfilled teacher vacancies this summer with the shortfall blamed on a rise in numbers quitting the profession early - alongside historic under-recruitment.

The Scottish Government has tried to address the issue with fast-track teacher training courses, recruitment campaigns and bursaries for those wishing to change career and become a teacher in key subjects.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said any suggestion of insufficient numbers of teachers to deliver courses such as Advanced Higher was a cause for "significant concern".

He said: "While pupils do take on greater responsibility for their own independent learning as they move through school, there must always be appropriate teaching input, guidance and support from subject specialist teachers.

"Online learning and independent study are valuable for pupils, but the role of teachers in shaping and directing young people’s learning remains absolutely vital at all stages of school."

Iain Gray, education spokesman for Scottish Labour Party, also raised concerns about the issue saying: "Pupils will take more responsibility for learning as they get older, but this should be based on the right balance for a particular qualification and not as a result of cuts especially for such critical exams."

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said many schools were finding it very difficult to support courses adequately because of a lack of resources.

She said: "This means many young people are being left to their own devices - something that puts considerable additional pressure on them as students.

"Not surprisingly, many parents feel that this is putting their sons and daughters at a disadvantage compared to those other students who are lucky enough to have full-time teachers in Advanced Higher courses.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said teacher recruitment was a matter for local authorities, but stressed that ministers recognised some areas had experienced challenges filling vacancies.

"This is why we have invested £88 million in 2017 only, resulting in 253 more teachers recruited last year – the first substantial increase since 2007."

In addition to problems delivering Advanced Higher courses the ADES paper detailed a range of other concerns.

It said: "Where there are shortages of teachers in specific subject areas, headteachers will do everything they can to maintain as high a level of provision as possible, especially in relation to courses leading to qualifications.

"To do so, they adopt a range of measures, including ... an increase in bi-level or multi-level teaching, use of technology to enable distance learning and a reduction in the number of direct teaching periods for Advanced Higher courses, where students are expected to undertake significant amounts of self-directed study.

"Similarly, local authorities work with schools to mitigate the effects of shortages in certain subjects, by, for instance: deploying specialist teachers across a number of schools, developing agreements with college staff to deliver certain courses.

"Some local authorities have also used recruitment agencies to address the problem of teacher shortages; however, this is an expensive option and has resulted in very limited success."

Despite these measures, ADES said it was "certainly the case" that some schools had been forced to reduce the provision of subjects and to place more "stringent restrictions" on the minimum class size required before running a course.

The report found there had been continuing evidence of a slow, but steady improvement in performance in National qualifications and high satisfaction rates by pupils and parents.

"These facts could be seen as evidence of the effectiveness of the efforts of schools and local authorities to mitigate the negative effects of teacher shortages," it said.