SCHOOLS have faced an exodus of their most experienced teachers over the past seven years at a time of unprecedented upheaval in the sector.

Analysis of statistics from the Scottish Government show there has been a 21 per cent reduction in the number of teachers aged 45 and over since 2010 - accounting for some 5000 members of school staff.

The decline has come at a time of major reform with the introduction of a new curriculum and qualifications which were widely seen as being introduced in a confusing and overly-bureaucratic way.

Teaching unions have repeatedly warned of the impact of excessive workload and resulting stress on staff following the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence with surveys highlighting the desire of staff to leave the profession.

There have also been concerns over the erosion of pay and a lack of promotion opportunities in schools following the phasing out of principal teachers.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary headteachers, said the loss of experienced staff was a particular challenge at a time of significant change.

He said: "The loss of teachers over 55 would be expected as they are the ones reaching normal retirement age, but more concerning is the loss from the 45 to 54-year-old group as they represent a significant loss of teaching personnel as well as potential expertise well in advance of normal retirement.

"Much emphasis has been placed recently on the challenge of recruiting new blood into the profession. The issue of teacher retention is a challenge of at least equal importance."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said ministers had been warned that a combination of pension changes, excessive workload and a lack of promotion would create a significant retention challenge.

He said: "This is particularly the case amongst those teachers being forced to work to 68 or more rather than the retirement age of 60 for which they had signed up.

"The large drop in the number of teachers aged over 45 working in our classrooms indicates that this is being borne out. Unfortunately, it means schools are losing highly experienced teachers from the profession.

“In particular, the government has failed to tackle the impact of pension changes on Scotland’s teachers and this, coupled with concerns over low pay and high workload, has led to an exodus of highly experienced and highly valuable teachers."

Mr Flanagan called for investment in the teaching profession to ensure it became a more attractive profession.

Parent bodies also raised concerns over the fall in more experienced teachers.

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said the profession should be a balance of experience and youth and enthusiasm.

She added: "I would be sorry if staff were leaving if they couldn’t find promoted posts and I hope that this will be looked into as soon as possible. A clear progression route should be available for anyone who would like to try for promotion."

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, added: "The average age of teachers is still in the early 40s so there continues to be plenty of experience in the system.

"A turnover of staff happens in any profession and new teaching staff can bring fresh energy and new perspectives into the classroom.

"What might be useful is to conduct exit interviews from those who are leaving the profession, to drill down into why that is and to learn from their experiences. Then we could see if this is ‘natural wastage’ or if this is an expression of something more serious."

A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers were committed to maintaining the highest standards for all teachers, regardless of age.

He added: "We are investing heavily to help recruit and retain teachers. As a consequence of our actions, there are now more teachers in Scottish classrooms than at any time since 2011.

"Importantly, our education reforms will also create new opportunities for teachers to progress in their careers, for example by giving headteachers power over staffing decisions including whether to have new promoted posts such as principal subject teachers."

The figures collated by the Scottish Government show the average age of the profession was 43 in 2010 with 49 per cent over the age of 45. By 2017 the average age had dropped to 41 with 39 per cent more than 45-years-old.

Over the last seven years the number of experienced teachers has fallen from 25,491 in 2010 to 20,090 in 2017 - a decline of 21 per cent.