A scheme to help children from poor backgrounds in Scotland who fall behind in literacy is helping to prop up school budgets and hide the decline in teacher numbers, unions say.

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), says that the money is being used to ‘prop up the number of teachers in schools’.

In a bid to bridge the attainment gap between poor and rich children, headteachers are given £120 million every year to boost literacy skills.

Now, the EIS says that while children from poor backgrounds are continuing to fall behind, temporary teachers are being employed with the cash to help cover the fall in the numbers of permanent teaching staff.

The union is also accusing the Scottish government of hiding the country’s secondary school recruitment crisis by refusing to count the numbers in a class in the same way they do for primary schools.

More teachers in primary schools

New figures reveal that there are 422 more teachers in primary schools and 167 more teachers in secondary schools this year.

However, for the primary school teachers, 296 of them were paid through the Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) and, the union warns, these teachers are ‘probably temporary’.

Also, the union says that the growing number of secondary school teachers is failing to keep up with the growing numbers of school pupils, so the country’s teacher-pupil ratio is worsening.

A spokesman for the union says the figures highlight a growing teacher retention and recruitment crisis in Scottish education.

He added that growing pupil numbers mean the pupil-teacher ratios have been ‘at a standstill compared to last year’.

‘Highlight teacher numbers and class sizes’

The spokesman added: “The Scottish government seems keen to highlight teacher numbers and class sizes in primary schools, but fails to gather and publish any data on secondary school class sizes where there are significant recruitment difficulties.”

The Scottish government’s education secretary, John Swinney, said: “Teacher numbers are the highest this decade and primary teacher numbers are at the highest since 1980.

“The average size for primary classes has been dropping in recent years and it’s important to help children in early years to close the attainment gap.”

In response to the union’s warning, Mr Swinney said: “The increasing performance gap in primary schools is not new but on nearly every measure the data shows the attainment gap between the most and least deprived areas is narrowing.”

The education spokesman for Scottish Labour, Iain Gray, said: “There are still more than 3,000 fewer teachers in our schools since the SNP came into power and that’s a staggering statistic.”