Scotland politics

Cosla consults lawyers over teacher funding row

Pupils in classroom Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Scottish government has pledged to maintain teacher numbers

Scotland's councils have taken legal advice over Scottish government plans to withhold money from any local authorities that cut teacher numbers.

Local authority body Cosla has also produced research questioning whether there is a direct link between the number of teachers and attainment.

Cosla wants the government to reopen talks over the issue.

But teaching union the EIS described Cosla's research paper as "bizarre and misleading".

The Scottish government, which says ministers have acted legally at every stage, wants to stop the number of teachers in schools across the country falling any further.

Finance Secretary John Swinney has allocated more than £10.85bn for councils in his budget for 2015-16.

Consulted lawyers

But he has angered some local authorities by insisting that they must agree to maintain teacher numbers if they want to receive their full cash settlement from the Scottish government.

One concern is that councils would not be able to cut teacher numbers - even if pupil numbers were falling.

Cosla chief executive Rory Mair said lawyers had been consulted over the issue, but stressed that any potential legal action was "down the road from our point of view".

He said: "We've now taken legal advice which suggests the government have a case to answer about the legality of their behaviour over the teacher number issue and the imposition of this deal.

"I don't think our first port of call would be to go to legal action, our first port of call is to go to government and say these are the questions you've got to answer, we expect you to come back round the table and answer them."

The research paper by Cosla puts forwards the argument that teacher numbers alone are not the reason attainment in Scotland's schools has gone up.

Image caption Cosla argues that the deal would prevent councils cutting teacher numbers even if pupil numbers were falling

It highlighted factors like the quality of teachers and changes to the curriculum.

The analysis paper said: "We can find no correlation between pupil/teacher ratios and S4 and S5 attainment, either at the individual local authority level or at Scottish level.

"This is in line with the vast majority of the international literature which has found no systematic relationship between pupil/teacher ratio and pupil attainment.

"Pupils' background and socio-economic circumstances have a stronger relationship with outcomes, as does teacher and teaching quality."

But the EIS described the research as "highly selective" and pointed out the fact that several councils have already said they would maintain teacher numbers.

The teaching union's general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The EIS is very clear that maintaining teacher numbers across Scotland is essential to ensure equality of opportunity for young people in our schools.

"The fact that Cosla is continuing to resist a national agreement, including the offer of significant new money, is extremely disappointing."

He added: "Cosla has published a selective literature review which, by sleight of hand, attempts to refute as unproven the notion that the number of teachers working in our classes has a direct correlation to improving attainment.

"Why is it then that almost every successful project which we have implemented to address the impact of poverty, for example nurture classes or literacy programmes, have at their core additional teaching staff?"

'No alternative'

A Scottish government spokesman reiterated that it was firmly committed to maintaining both teacher numbers and the pupil-teacher ratio.

He added: "Having not only the highest quality but also the right number of teachers in our schools to support our pupils is a policy we would hope local authorities would support.

"Despite the Scottish government providing a further £10m of funding, bringing the total to £51m, specifically to support teacher numbers, Cosla failed to reach agreement on the terms of a national agreement leaving us no alternative but to seek agreements with individual local authorities.

"Several councils have expressed a desire to meet with ministers to discuss the offer, which we very much welcome."

He said a further meeting between the Scottish government and Cosla is planned for next week, but ministers have made clear that the conditions of the offer will not change.

"Ministers have acted legally at every stage, and it is unclear which regulations Cosla believe sets out that Scottish ministers can, or cannot, act in this way", the spokesman added.

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