Hundreds of teacher vacancies have gone unfilled over the last three years, sparking fresh fears for recruitment into Scotland’s rural schools.

Figures released under freedom of information laws show that, between 2017/18 and 2019/20, nearly 2,800 positions were still empty by the application closing date or attracted zero responses.

Twenty-seven of 32 councils provided data, meaning the national total will be even higher.

Although general trends are improving in many areas, statistics show non-urban schools continue to be among the hardest hit.

The contrast between Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire is particularly stark. Just 14 vacancies in Scotland’s third largest city were unfilled between 2017 and 2020. In Aberdeenshire, the figure was 595.

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Laurence Findlay, Aberdeenshire Council’s Director of Education and Children’s Services, stressed that the annual total for his authority had “fallen significantly”. He also said “innovative” programmes aimed at encouraging individuals to consider a teaching career had produced “positive results”.

Other badly affected councils include Argyll and Bute (246), Perth and Kinross (219), East Lothian (118) and Angus (113). North Ayrshire, which takes in Arran and the Cumbrae Isles, recorded 384 unfilled or zero-application vacancies.

The Scottish Conservatives, who obtained the figures, accused ministers of letting down schools and pupils.

Oliver Mundell, Shadow Education Secretary, said: “The SNP have been in charge of our education system for over 14 years, but they continue to fail to go the extra mile to recruit extra teachers.”

HeraldScotland: Oliver Mundell is concerned about the latest figures.Oliver Mundell is concerned about the latest figures.

He added: “The problem is particularly prevalent in our rural communities, which the SNP ignore all too often. These areas are crying out for teachers to support our pupils, but the SNP are failing to fully resource our education sector and our local authorities with what they require.

“The Scottish Conservatives are committed to pushing for a dedicated Rural Teacher fund to be set up to tackle these shortages.”

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Larry Flanagan, General Secretary at the EIS union, said: “There has been a challenge for a few years on teacher recruitment in parts of the country, particularly around small rural primaries, and also in relation to certain disciplines such as the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

“Some councils seem to be more successful than others, however, in addressing this and the EIS would hope that through Cosla [which represents authorities] best practice is being shared.

"A national approach is required to ensure that our schools have the teachers required to support education recovery.”

HeraldScotland: EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.

A Cosla spokeswoman said: “Due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation and our continued main objective of getting the workforce in place to deliver the broad range of essential services to our communities, we have had to adapt our practices and procedures to suit.

“The bottom line however remains that councils, in line with our agreement with the Scottish Government, are fully committed to the employment of newly qualified, recently qualified and those teachers on supply lists."

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Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We have provided over £200 million to councils to support the recruitment of additional staff to support education recovery, which has helped recruit 1,400 teachers during the pandemic.

“And we will do more. In the first 100 days of government, we will also fund councils to increase teacher numbers by 1,000 and classroom assistants by 500. This is part of our commitment, over the parliamentary term, to support the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants.”