Many head teachers in Scotland believe students are being disadvantaged by a lack of teaching staff and assistants.

As part of the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), head teachers were asked if their school was being hindered by either a lack of staff or poor-quality teachers.

Head teachers' responses were weighted to represent their respective student populations. 

Of the total number of Scottish students who took part in PISA 2022, head teachers said that they believe more than half (53.9%) were impacted by a short supply of teachers at their schools.

Read more: 'Impossible' staffing squeeze in Scotland's schools could affect pupil behaviour

More than one-third (35.8%) said students were impacted "to some extent", while 18.1% reported that the impact was "a lot".

The impact of assistant staff levels was similar: Head teachers reported that they believe 54.5% of students are impacted by a lack of assistant staff.

Despite concerns over a lack of available teachers and assistants, the surveys also reveal that head teachers hold existing staff in high regard.

Read more: Teacher posts in Scotland re-advertised 636 times last year

Only 10.6% of students are affected by poor-quality teaching staff, according to head teachers. 

Notably, the reported percentages are much higher elsewhere in the UK.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, school leaders reported that 19.6%, 17.2% and 20.9%, respectively, are impacted by poor-quality teaching staff.

There were more concerns reported about assistant teachers, with head teachers in Scotland saying that they believe one-quarter (24.6%) of students are affected by poor-quality assistants.

Safety issues remain in the spotlight

Although questions about teacher quality and lack of staff were put to school leaders, the survey also asked students directly about their experiences on campus.

Topics included: students' feelings about safety at school, relationships with other students, and preparedness for remote learning.

Following on from a recent string of staff surveys detailing rising violence in Scottish schools, the PISA surveys asked students questions about violence and behavioural issues.

In many instances, students echoed staff concerns. 

Read more: EIS teacher report reveals scale of violence in Scottish schools

According to the PISA surveys, students reported witnessing a wide variety of violent and dangerous behaviour at school.

Students reported witnessing vandalism (40%); fights in which someone was hurt (35.8%); gang activity (9.4%); and students threatening other students (35.7%) on campus.

And a startling, albeit smaller 4.9% reported that they had seen students carrying a gun or knife at school.

These responses are perhaps more telling given the fact that students were only asked to report these incidents if they occurred in the four weeks before the PISA assessment. 

Students's PISA responses therefore only represent a snapshot from part of one academic year. 

Recent reports from the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Government show that there is a much longer – and growing – trend of violent behaviour in Scottish schools.

You can read more of our coverage of PISA 2022 here.