SNP ministers have faced questioning in the wake of last week's Budget announcements over head teachers' fears school cuts will see subjects removed from the curriculum, class sizes increased and teacher numbers fall.

In Holyrood today Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie asked the Scottish Government's Jamie Hepburn about warnings made by Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, that the squeezing of budgets is "now starting to bite" in schools and classrooms.

In a grim assessment, Mr Thewliss said staff wanted to promote aspiration in pupils but are now in the position of "managing expectations".

READ MORE: Scotland way behind Ireland in pupils learning languages

Pressed on the warnings this afternoon Mr Hepburn insisted Scotland "had the highest school spending" and "more teachers per pupil" in any nation in the UK.

"In our budget we have sought to protect councils presiding over a local government settlement for £13.2 billion for 2023/24, this is a package which represents a real terms increase from 22/23 enabling them to continue to deliver a high quality of eduction for our children," he said.

Mr Rennie hit back accusing the minister of "not hearing" what Mr Thewliss had said during his interview on Sunday.

Mr Hepburn insisted there was a "real terms increase" in both the education resource and capital budgets with the former rising from £2.9billion to more than £3billion and the latter increasing from £506 million to £566million.

READ MORE: SQA results: Huge drop in pupils taking Higher languages and sciences

Mr Rennie then pressed Mr Hepburn on the SNP's election pledge to recruit an additional 3,500 teachers and classroom assistants and to substantially eliminate the poverty related attainment gap.

The minister said the government "will look to take forward" its manifesto commitments and had increased money to a fund set up to tackle the attainment gap.

He said: "We will continue to invest £1 billion through the Scottish attainment challenge in this parliamentary session, which represents a substantial increase on the previous session’s £750 million.

"That is specifically designed to tackle the attainment gap and drive education recovery. As I have mentioned, we are providing more than £145 million of additional annual funding to ensure the sustained employment of additional teachers and classroom assistants. We are doing what we can to make sure that we deliver for Scotland’s young people at school."

Tory education spokesman Stephen Kerr said under the SNP there were now 900 fewer teachers as he pressed the minister on a drop in the number of pupils taking key subjects including sciences and languages.

"There's now talk in councils of a shorter school day, a shorter school week, even fewer subject choices and rising class sizes...and teachers are more worried than they ought to be about their safety in the classroom," he said.

"It's hardly sunlight uplands, it is. Is the minister as embarrassed as he should be?"

Mr Hepburn replied: "I am actually very proud when I go to see the many achievements of young people the length and breadth of this country."

Labour's education spokesman Michael Marra pressed: "I have listened carefully to the minister’s responses, and it is clear that he has dodged the core question, which was about the manifesto commitments on which the Government was elected—it was about the 3,500 additional teachers and reductions in classroom time. Is it not right that the pledge on 3,500 teachers is dead in the water under the budget?"

Mr Hepburn replied: "I have fully responded to that question. We have laid out our manifesto commitments, and we will work to take them forward."

Deputy First Minister John Swinney, the acting Finance Secretary, admitted on Sunday he had set out "a pretty bleak picture" to MSPs as he published the tax and spending plans.

Cosla, the council body, had asked for £1 billion to address multiple challenges, but said the cash allocated for 2023/24 amounts to an uplift of just £71 million once policy commitments are taken into account.

In Holyrood today Mr Swinney was asked by Labour MSP Mark Griffin whether he would meet with Cosla leaders to discuss their concerns.

The DFM failed to say if he would meet with the group and insisted that "despite the spectacularly difficult current fiscal context" the Scottish Government had increased local government resources next year by more than £570 million.

Mr Griffin then said that officials in SNP-run Aberdeen City Council have started looking at whether many services, including social work, could be outsourced or privatised and went on to accuse the government of trying to "dismantle" local government.

The acting Finance Secretary dismissed the claim and said local authorities have other taxvarying powers, such as those in relation to empty property relief which could be used to raise revenue.

He pointed to the tourist tax which the government intends to progress through legislation which could be used by councils if they wished.

"In due course in this parliamentary session, we will legislate on a visitor levy. Local authorities have at their disposal other measures, but they can rely on a £570 million increase in their budget that they were not expecting," Mr Swinney added.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Show, Mr Thewliss raised significant concerns over education following last Thursday's Budget.

He said: "There have been year-on-year cuts within the education budget over the past, certainly 10 years, perhaps even longer than that.

"We're now at a stage where we really have a service where if you start to cut any more, you're cutting into the basic function of the service, which the number of teachers in front of young people within schools."

He added: "What we've experienced at the moment is that vacancies which are already identified within schools - head teachers have been told these are not going to be filled, we'll start to manage the service to reduce the number of teachers within local authorities.

"In terms of impact on young people, the cuts running up until now to an extent didn't have a direct impact on young people, but it is now starting to bite in the school and in the classroom."

Asked how pupils will experience this, he said: "Things like class sizes starting to increase, certain subjects within the curriculum starting to be removed because they are deemed as non-viable. That's the experience that we're hearing from members across the country."

Mr Thewliss said schools have already been working together to share classes in subjects such as Higher modern languages. He said there is now "even greater pressure" on these subjects.

He added: "We're very much in the business of promoting aspiration within young people. We have bought entirely into the whole notion of young people having the best educational experience and the best life chances that they can have.

"We're now in the position...of managing expectations to a degree, and I have no idea where we're going to move with this, but it's becoming much, much more challenging in managing those expectations at the same time as promoting aspiration."

Mr Thewliss called on ministers and council leaders to work with schools and insisted school leaders will continue to do the "very best" they can.

On Thursday, Mr Swinney announced people earning more than £43,662 will pay more in tax next year as laid out the Scottish Government's plans, which had a focus on the NHS and social security.