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Salmond attacks Labour-run council on teacher numbers

ALEX Salmond has blamed a combination of Westminster-imposed budget cuts and a reduction in the number of teachers employed by Glasgow City Council for wrecking the Scottish Government's pledge to drive down primary school class sizes.

The First Minister hit back after official figures showed average classes have risen to 23.2, compared with 22.8 when the SNP first came to power in 2007, and a fall in teacher numbers of 175 this year compared with last.

The figures also showed just 13.6% of children in the first three years of primary school were being taught in classes of 18 pupils or fewer, the lowest level since 2007.

Mr Salmond - who came to power promising that all P1 to P3 pupils would be taught in classes of 18 or fewer by 2011 at the latest - yesterday admitted "that is not the improvement we were looking for".

But he said councils faced extreme financial pressures as a result of the financial crisis in 2008 and subsequent cuts to the Scottish Government's budget.

In an outspoken attack on Labour-run Glasgow City Council, he said the Scotland-wide reduction in teacher numbers was the result of the authority cutting 181 posts.

Challenged on his record during First Minister's Questions, he told the Scottish Labour leader: "Perhaps Johann Lamont should not come along here to challenge the SNP Government on teacher numbers; why does she not take a trip to Glasgow City Chambers and speak to her colleagues?"

Mr Salmond stressed that councils had maintained pupil/teacher ratios this year compared with last, and he claimed a "substantial achievement" in almost eliminating classes of more than 25 pupils since 2007.

He added: "We have had record examination results, which is a substantial achievement by teachers and pupils.

"We have record numbers of school leavers in positive destinations in Scotland - the figure is 89.5%, which is a substantial achievement by teachers and the education system in Scotland."

The First Minister defended the Scottish Government's record a day after Education Secretary Michael Russell attempted to deny class sizes were rising during an interview on BBC Newsnight Scotland.

Seizing on the minister's apparent confusion, Ms Lamont told MSPs: "I hope that the First Minister was watching Newsnight Scotland last night, because his Education Secretary made the astonishing defence that up was down, that good was bad and that better was worse.

"The Education Secretary lives in a fantasy world.

"I suggest the First Minister should stop listening to his Education Secretary and look at what is happening on the ground."

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of Scotland's biggest teaching union, called for an end to the "blame game" between ministers and council leaders over falling teacher numbers and rising class sizes.

The EIS official said: "Teachers, who have yet to be awarded the 1% pay increase imposed by Cosla on other local authority workers, will be extremely angry that while they are working flat out to deliver Curriculum for Excellence, promised commitments on education - such as maintaining teacher numbers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to nursery teaching - have been broken."

He added: "The EIS will be raising with both the Scottish Government and local authorities the need to address this situation before the last vestiges of teacher goodwill disappear.

"There is currently a political blame game under way between the Scottish Government and local authorities as to who is responsible for these failed commitments. Our view is that there is a collective responsibility for the promises on teacher numbers, class sizes and nursery education and that both the Scottish Government and local authorities should be embarrassed by the figures published yesterday."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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