THE NUMBER of primary schools stretched beyond their capacity limits has risen by a third in a decade, despite promises that new schools would help to tackle overcrowding.

Since 2009, hundreds of schools have closed across the country with 200 fewer schools overall now than there were a decade ago.

Dozens of schools, the majority of them primaries, are now having to accommodate more than the maximum number of pupils they were designed for, with some teachers having to use reading rooms, family rooms and Portakabins as routine classroom alternatives.

In some cases schools are bulging with up to 42 per cent more children than they are meant to accommodate, sparking concerns over the impact on their safety and standard of education they receive.

Critics have accused the Scottish Government of failing on education and said children are being “crammed in like sardines”.

Beatrice Wishart, the Liberal Democrats' spokeswoman for education, said the data showed that education was not a priority for Nicola Sturgeon’s government, and added: "It's a far cry from fostering an environment that’s conducive to learning."

While the number of over-capacity secondary schools has reduced in the last 10 years, from 42 in 2009 to 23 in 2018/19, the number or primaries schools has risen with 111 primaries now catering for 100 per cent or more of the pupils they were designed for, compared with 83 in 2009.

Analysis of the latest education statistics published by the Scottish government show the number of P1-3 children in classes with 18 or fewer students has also fallen in the last decade.

This is despite the Government’s goal of reducing class sizes for youngsters in the first three years of primary to 18 pupils or less.

In 2009, 16.1% of students in their first three years of education were being taught in classes with up to 18 pupils, but last year, it was just 12.3% of P1-3 students.

In 2018 South Morningside Primary in Edinburgh had one teacher for 34 P1 children.

Shetland MSP Wishart said: "Schools across the country are under-resourced and in some cases children are packed in like sardines.

“The number of pupils being taught in super-size classes has soared on the SNP’s watch while some buildings simply aren’t designed to cope with the numbers of children they are accommodating.

“This is the case in primary schools especially, where some large primary schools are in the region of 40% over capacity. It’s a far cry from fostering an environment that’s conducive to learning and bigger classes make it harder to close the attainment gap.

“Education is supposed to be the Scottish Government’s number one priority, but few people believe that any more."

Teachers union EIS has also raised concerns about over-stretched schools, and said it was "unacceptable" that children and teachers were being forced to work in such an environment.

They blamed the rising strain on local authority budgets and said children's education would be impacted.

A spokesman for EIS told The Herald on Sunday: "It is unacceptable for schools to be over capacity as this has significant implications for the operation of the school, the workload of staff and, crucially, the educational experience of young people.

"It is essential that pupils should be educated in an environment that is conducive to learning, and this may be compromised where too many pupils are being accommodated within a particular school or class.

"Factors such as rising pupil rolls and the strain on education budgets through the climate of austerity have contributed to an environment where some schools can face challenges in accommodating all of the pupils within their catchment area.”

North Lanarkshire, which according to the latest figures has 17 primary schools with more than 100 per cent capacity, said that it does not include "modular units" – i.e. Portakabins and other temporary buildings – as part of its capacity measurements, therefore this may explain why so many of its schools appeared to be over capacity.

A spokesman explained some councils do factor in the use of Portakabins as part of the school estate, and therefore they may not look as though their schools had too many pupils when they actually did.

When asked specifically about Chryston Primary, which is 39 per cent above capacity according to the latest figures, a spokesman said that there were "exciting plans" to replace the school in the next three years but added that Portakabins are being used to accommodate the extra 86 pupils.

He said: "The current capacity of the school accommodation is 217 with the current roll sitting at 303 in August 2018.

"With modular units that are currently in use this increases the capacity to 317.

"We have exciting plans to construct a new replacement building for Chryston PS within the next three years."

Kinnaird Primary school in Falkirk has 142% of the children it is designed to accommodate, according to the government data. When it was last measured, the school was catering for 618 pupils, when it is only designed to accommodate 434.

The local authority said that temporary units had not been factored in to the capacity calculations.

A spokesman said: "We have installed additional modular classroom units at Kinnaird to meet the current demand for classroom accommodation. We believe the information being referred to solely looks at the original building capacity and does not recognise these additional units.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Over-capacity primary schools have risen by 1.2 percentage points since 2009-10.

“Teacher levels are the highest since 2010 and the number of primary teachers is the highest since 1980. All local authorities are committed through the Teacher Numbers Agreement with Cosla to maintaining a national pupil-teacher ratio of 13.7.

“The number of pupils in P1 classes of 26 or more has almost halved since 2018, and has fallen from 16,845 in 2006 to 267 in 2019. That equates to around just 10 classes in the whole of Scotland.”