Local authorities stand to lose their share of a combined £145.5 million in funding if they do not maintain their teacher levels by next year.

The Scottish Government has not yet determined how it will divide the £145.5 million between local authorities, but through Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests, The Herald can reveal how much each local authority was promised in the 2023/24 budget year. 

According to the FOI disclosures, the government has allocated a total of £233.5 million to help maintain teacher numbers in recent years–this includes a £145.5 million grant, which began in 2022/23, and a pre-existing £88 million.

For the 2023/24 budget year, distribution of £45.5 million was made conditional on councils maintaining their teacher and pupil support staff numbers from 2022.

The Scottish Government has said that next year, councils will be measured against their most recent 2023 census levels, but how much money will be at stake for each council is still to be determined.

A government spokesperson said: “The provision of the full £145.5million to protect teachers numbers in 2024/25 and its delivery is being finalised with COSLA partners.”

Many local authorities have reported teacher losses two years in a row.

Although the government has not determined how much of the £145.5 million it will set aside for each local authority, the breakdown from the previous year gives a sense of the proportions.

This year, Glasgow City Council received the highest portion of funding. Its share of the conditional £45.5 million was £5.15 million.

The next highest were:

  • Edinburgh: £3.3 million
  • Fife: £3.2 million
  • North Lanarkshire: £3.12 million
  • South Lanarkshire: £2.93 million
  • Aberdeenshire: £2.3 million
  • Highland: £2 million

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth has repeatedly warned councils that the government can withhold funding if they do not keep teacher numbers at the required levels.

This warning was tested recently when the 2023 census data revealed that 15 local authorities had fewer FTE teaching staff than in 2022.

The 15 councils who fell short of their 2022 levels in the most recent 2023 census are:

  • Aberdeenshire (13 short)
  • Clackmannanshire (1 short)
  • East Ayrshire (37 short)
  • Fife (38 short)
  • Glasgow (125 short)
  • Highland (17 short)
  • Inverclyde (9 short)
  • Moray (20 short)
  • Na h-Eileanan Siar (6 short)
  • North Ayrshire (12 short)
  • North Lanarkshire (41 short)
  • Pert and Kinross (6 short)
  • Renfrewshire (27 short)
  • Shetland Islands (2 short)
  • West Dunbartonshire (12 short)
  • Scotland-wide (162 short)

The Herald revealed in March that Glasgow City Council’s share of this special funding was safe despite the ongoing plans to cut 450 teachers by 2027 to help close the city's budget gap. But there were no promises made that there would be a similar let off in the future.

The government's decision to deliver funding, even to a council reporting a loss of teacher numbers and plans to make further cuts, stemmed from a letter sent to local authorities in February.

In it, Mrs Gilruth informed councils that she would not withhold any council’s share of the special funding in 2023/24, saying that it would not be in the best interest of pupils to withhold money so late in the financial year.

Read more: Fresh protests against Glasgow education cuts as council vote approaches

A government spokesperson said that the special funding would be strictly ringfenced in 2024/25. Councils that do not maintain or return to their 2023 FTE levels could stand to lose their share in the future.

New census data will be published in December 2024. The government will use this to determine whether councils have met the conditions to receive their funding. 

The Herald: Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth offered a reprieve this year, but councils may be on a tighter leash in 2025.Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth offered a reprieve this year, but councils may be on a tighter leash in 2025. (Image: PA Photos)

The government has shown a willingness in the past to engage with councils and investigate the reasons why teacher numbers have fallen. FOI disclosures show that government officials sent letters to each of the 15 councils where teacher numbers had fallen below the 2022 levels.

Read more:  Swinney refuses to commit to 2021 teacher vow

Officials wrote that the government would be “fair and balanced” and “consider any mitigating circumstances” that individual councils face before deciding whether to withhold funding.

Mrs Gilruth also wrote a letter to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), conveying her “disappointment that overall teacher numbers have fallen for a consecutive year.”

Each letter was dated December 12, 2023, the same day the government published its census data.

Regardless of how many teachers were lost locally, the same letter was sent to each of the 15 councils. However, Mrs Gilruth had previously told Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People’s committee that “four or five” local authorities had reported significant drops and were the subject of tighter scrutiny.

When asked to identify these councils in a separate FOI request, the Scottish Government returned correspondence between government officers and East Ayrshire, Fife, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, and Moray Councils.

In these letters, councils cited various reasons for declining teacher numbers, many of which were specific to their region.

Many councils highlighted changes in how Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) funding is distributed. The government supports the SAC programme with a £1 billion commitment over the current parliamentary term.

Originally meant to support nine areas (Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Ayrshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire), the funding is now shared between all 32 local authorities.

All nine original SAC recipients except Dundee reported lower teacher numbers in 2023. Many told the government that the reduced funding directly impacted their ability to recruit and pay teacher salaries.

In their letter to the government, Renfrewshire Council estimated that its share of SAC funding would drop from £3,749,496 in 2023 to £1,323,984 by 2026. North Lanarkshire reported a loss of £2 million in funding between 2021 and 2023 and another £1 million in 2024 and 2025.

Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire and Moray Councils cited long-running struggles to recruit teachers and to fill requested probationer posts every year.

Although the Scottish Government and Mrs Gilruth granted local authorities a reprieve and allowed them to keep their full share of funding this year, there are growing concerns that ongoing financial pressures mean many will struggle again to maintain teacher numbers in 2024/25.

First Minister John Swinney was recently pressured to back a 2021 promise that the government would hire 3,500 new teachers by 2026. The pledge was made while he was serving as education secretary. Still, he refused to recommit to the promise this week, saying that the government faces "enormous financial pressure." 

The Herald exclusively revealed that local authorities face a combined £780 million budget deficit over the next two years and have already made £398 million in cuts. 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that supporting councils in recruiting and retaining teachers is part of its commitment to closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

“The Scottish Government is determined to close the poverty related attainment gap and ministers are clear that this will not be achieved by councils employing fewer teachers in our schools. 

“To that end, we are offering local authorities £145.5 million in this year’s budget to protect teacher numbers.

“Councils have statutory obligations in respect of education, and have a shared commitment with the Scottish Government to deliver the best outcomes for people and communities under the Verity House Agreement.”