HEADTEACHERS have warned the Scottish Government a looming tax gap will further cripple the education system by making it harder to recruit school leaders.

The broadside levelled at Education Secretary John Swinney at a conference in Glasgow comes amidst rising anger over sliding pay for heads in primary and secondary schools.

The decline in salaries, combined with rising workload and stress, has been blamed for a shortage of applicants for headteacher posts across the country.

Earlier this week, the UK government’s leading independent adviser on the economy warned of a “genuine economic effect” from the widening gap between tax rates for higher earners in Scotland and those in the rest of the UK in the wake of the Westminster Budget.

Headteachers in charge of the largest secondary schools in Scotland can earn up to £88,000, but the majority earn significantly less than that and starting salaries are just £45,000.

The issue was raised directly with Mr Swinney as he attended a conference of primary headteachers from the Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland (AHDS).

Sharon McLellan, a headteacher from Dumfries and Galloway, told him: “Headteachers have seen their pay eroded over a number of years, even more so then promoted teachers and classroom teachers.

“We are seeing higher pension contributions for decreased benefits and no passing on of the increased higher rate tax thresholds that we see south of the Border and that gap with Scotland will continue to widen.

“My job is not all about pay, but suitable remuneration is important to do what is increasingly a very difficult, stressful job in challenging situations.”

Ms McLellan asked Mr Swinney how he expected to recruit the next crop of school leaders when the value of school leaders was “repeatedly undermined by successive decisions which continue to erode our remuneration”.

Mr Swinney accepted that a number of decisions taken by both the Westminster and Scottish Governments had a cumulative impact on pay for headteachers - and said the impact of austerity on wider public sector pay had gone on longer than expected.

He added: “There is absolutely no shortage of talent or ability among the teaching workforce in Scotland, but there is a need to identify, encourage and support those who are interested in rising to the challenge of the headteacher role.

"There has been extensive pay restraint and headteachers have been part of that, but we are now in dialogue with the professional associations on pay and we will continue with that.

"Obviously there is a set of decisions that the Finance Secretary has got to make on taxation and the Government will engage strongly on those questions."

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the AHDS, said the government had to address "big issues" on the number of people aspiring to headship.

He said: "On the one hand we have John Swinney saying headteachers are extremely important in his agenda for change, but on the other hand we have a series of decisions, up to and including the Budget, that are eroding the reward for school leaders.

"In the rest of the UK, heads will see the higher rate tax threshold move up quite significantly, but the messages we are getting just now is that won't happen here which is a further erosion of the financial incentive for people to move into headship."

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, which represents the secondary sector, said members would also be concerned about the impact of the tax changes on top of a "divisive" pay deal which he said failed to recognise the value of heads.

"On top of the increases in pensions there is also the current pay offer which essentially says to headteachers that they are not valued," he said.

"In itself the widening of the tax gap was probably something we could have lived with, but there is an accumulation of things which is causing a lot of frustration and it is another disincentive."

The row over tax came as the Scottish Government published the final report of a working group on the crisis in headteacher recruitment.

The report found the number of promoted posts in Scottish schools had dropped by more than 1,500 between 2010 and 2017 because of the removal of principal teachers.

"The flattening of career structures is hitting the number of teachers with well-developed leadership skills and experience who feel confident in considering headship, and on the desirability of the headship role given the lack of interim steps," the report said.

The report found the use of shared headship had increased while the number of teachers with a headship qualification who were not working in the top leadership roles was 412.

The group set out a series of recommendations to encourage more teachers to apply for headship, including improvements in pay, funding of training courses for aspiring heads and more support to deal with stress and workload.

The creation of a single fast-track leadership scheme to boost headteacher numbers was not recommended as the group found it would not "best meet the needs of the teaching profession in Scotland".