TEACHERS' leaders have warned an unexpected rise in truancy among Scottish pupils could be the result of growing disillusionment with education.

New figures show truancy levels have risen by more than 50% over the past few years, with over 1.6 million school days lost last year.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, speculates the rise could be down to a concept of schooling having no benefit because of the recession.

"If pupils don't believe there are jobs available then increasing numbers may disengage with the process," she warned.

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union agrees, stating: "It may be that difficult financial circumstances are increasing pressure on families and this is having an impact on their children."

If the rise in truancy is related to the economic downturn – rather than an improvement in the way the statistics are gathered – the reality is that opportunities for young people are actually improving.

Yesterday's Scottish Government figures showed an increase in the proportion of school-leavers going to college, university, training or employment, up from 87% to 89% – a hard-won improvement in the most difficult of circumstances.

What is of more concern is the continuing decline of teacher numbers.

Part of the fall is related to the decline in pupil numbers, which have dropped by 20,000 since 2007.

Councils are funded on the basis of how many pupils they have and staff schools accordingly.

But while pupil numbers have declined by 3% since the SNP took power, teacher numbers have declined by nearly 7%.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, can rightly argue that the SNP has fought to protect teacher jobs with a target to restrict the decline met by councils.

However, the target was only for one year and there is lingering suspicion that, because it only applied to the date of the Government census in September, councils simply filled their schools with additional staff for a short period.

Figures detailing the nature of teacher contracts add some weight to this argument, showing the number of teachers on temporary contracts has risen from 11% to 13%.

What makes the continuing decline more embarrassing for the SNP, however, is the fact that in its 2007 election manifesto the party promised to maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes.

Latterly, as class-size targets have either been watered down or scrapped altogether, a new mantra of improving pupil teacher ratios has been adopted.

The 2011 SNP manifesto states: "With local government we will look to ... continuing with progressive reductions in class sizes and pupil teacher ratios."

Unfortunately, the figures published yesterday show pupil teacher ratios are now at their highest levels since 2007.

The SNP will argue that class size reductions in the first year of primary school are of benefit, because that is where research shows pupils get more out of extra time with teachers.

It also believes it has "turned the corner" on the recent crisis in teacher recruitment, with figures published today by the General Teaching Council for Scotland showing a slight increase in the number of newly-qualified staff getting a job.

Unemployment among probationers has dropped from 27% to 18%, but, with the number securing full-time permanent contracts only at 21%, there is still much to be done.