Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say whether education remains her number one priority after being put under pressure over whether her key pledge to eliminate the attainment gap remains intact.

The row comes after proposals to cut hundreds of teachers for Scotland’s largest council was revealed.

The plans emerged after Deputy First Minister John Swinney told a Holyrood committee that public-sector job cuts are inevitable over the next four years.

The Glasgow City Council proposals also consider shutting primary schools across the city early on Fridays to help shave £51million from the education budget, according to a document leaked to the Daily Record.

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Teaching unions said they are “desperately worried” about the proposals, warning they would have a detrimental impact on the city’s young people.

Glasgow City Council is facing a £68 million shortfall for the year ahead and will set its budget next month.

The document seen by the newspaper says £22.5 million could be saved by revising the way primary and secondary schools are staffed, which would affect pupil/teacher ratios and lead to many more composite classes, with 397 teaching posts affected.

A proposal to cut the number of teachers by closing schools early on Fridays, affecting 324 roles, would save £18.5 million.

If all the options for cuts came into force, around 800 teaching posts would be at risk, as would the roles of more than 100 “support for learning” staff, the Daily Record reported.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said she had “not seen the detail” of the proposals.

She added that she was “in favour of more teachers not fewer teachers”.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said he was “deeply worried” by the proposals.

HeraldScotland: Douglas RossDouglas Ross (Image: Gordon Terris / Newsquest)

He added: “This is what happens when the SNP don't properly fund councils.

“It wastes taxpayers money on ferries that don't float on other pet projects, instead of providing Scottish education and Scottish schools with the support they need.”

Mr Ross pointed to “bold promises about education that would be her number one priority”.

He said: “She claimed her government would close the attainment gap completely but yesterday her own education secretary rubbished Nicola Sturgeon’s promise.

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“Shirley-Anne Somerville said, and this is a quote, ‘I think, in reality that is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to achieve - to get to the point of zero’.

“So is the education secretary right that the First Minister's key promise is never going to happen?”

In response, the FM said: “Our commitment to substantially eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap by 2026 still stands.

“I said that in the parliament before and I say it again today.”

Ms Sturgeon stressed that the task “wouldn't be as difficult as it is if we didn't have a Tory government pushing more children into poverty every single week”.

She added: “I’ll let the people of Scotland continue to judge the record and the actions and the decisions of this government.

“At a time when the Tories have been slashing budgets for local councils, this government and the budget we have put forward for next year is increasing council budgets by over £570m.

“We are providing £145m to councils to support the employment of additional teachers.”

Earlier, Deputy First Minister John Swinney told MSPs that job cuts across the public sector in Scotland was inevitable over the next four years, whether Labour replaces the Conservatives in Downing Street or not.

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Mr Swinney, who is also the interim Finance Secretary, told MSPs that jobs will be lost from the public sector due to squeezed budgets from Westminster.

The Scottish Government has previously warned that the UK Government has not provided enough funding to source pay agreements with public sector workers.

Mr Swinney stressed that the number of public sector workers in Scotland over the next four years, where a spending review has been set out, will be cut.

He said: “We will have to work carefully with trade unions and staff associations over the course of the four-year profile of the spending period we have available to reduce staff numbers.

“We have a situation where the profile of the four-year spending envelope that’s available to us would generally be characterised as less challenging in the first two years and extremely challenging in the last two years.” Mr Swinney added: “Those are the previsions of the current United Kingdom Government. The opposition in the United Kingdom Parliament have made it clear that they will sustain those numbers should the election result in a change of government.

“I think we have to prepare on the basis that we have to, in dialogue and in partnership with trade unions and staff associations, carefully reduce head count over the course of the next four years.”

But union leaders have criticised the assumption, warning ministers that they have powers to generate funding without the support from UK Government finances.

Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, said: “As we continue to face a cost of living crisis, the last thing workers need is for their jobs to be put at risk. “Job cuts are not inevitable. “As we have repeatedly stated, the Scottish Government has tax raising powers that would allow them to raise the necessary funds for the retention of public sector workers.

“Trade unions across the public sector will be united against any loss of jobs.”