Council fined as its teachers total falls short

Alex Neil has slammed North Lanarkshire Council over teachers shortfall fine.
Alex Neil has slammed North Lanarkshire Council over teachers shortfall fine.

A political row has blown up after North Lanarkshire Council was fined £713,000 for failing to maintain teacher numbers in schools.

Alex Neil, the Scottish Government’s Communities Minister, is calling for council education convener Jim Logue to quit over the “incompetence” he says led to the target not being achieved. The council is one of 10 being penalised.

However, Councillor Logue said the Airdrie and Shotts MSP seemed unaware there is a national teacher shortage and branded some of his figures “absolute nonsense”.

Councillor Logue also insisted the hefty fine was not related to the suspension two months ago of the council’s education director, Andrew Sutherland.

Mr Neil said it was vital to safeguard the number of teachers, but the Labour-run council had “got its numbers wrong” and fallen 58 teachers short of its agreed total.

He added: “As a result of this incompetence the council has to repay £713,000 to the Scottish Government. More importantly, schoolchildren in North Lanarkshire are well short of the number of teachers they should have had in their classrooms.

“The council has also spent a fortune on large pay-outs to 163 teachers retiring early this year because allegedly they weren’t needed! All other councils in Scotland gave early retirement to a combined total of only 168 teachers.

“Councillor Logue has presided over this scandal. He should now resign because he isn’t up to the job.”

However, Mr Logue responded: “Mr Neil is clearly unaware that there is a national shortage of qualified teachers, with many councils struggling to recruit and retain staff.

“All 32 education authorities in Scotland agree that the pupil-teacher ratio measurement is a bizarre and illogical performance measurement as it only provides a snapshot on one day in September, and is based on the number of teachers who are present in each school on that particular day.

“It does not take into consideration teachers who are not in school because of illness, maternity leave or professional development courses.

“Every convener of education, including SNP members, has consistently expressed concern at such a simplistic approach. It is also worth noting that 10 of the 32 authorities in Scotland are being unfairly penalised by the SNP Scottish Government’s policy. This also affects SNP, independent and coalition-controlled councils.”

Councillor Logue added that Mr Neil’s figures on early retirement were “absolute nonsense”.

Education director Mr Sutherland is currently suspended while a probe into the “maintenance and accuracy of teaching staff numbers” takes place, but Councillor Logue said that probe, which is due to be completed soon, is not connected to the fine imposed on the council.