Teacher writing on blackboard

Have teacher numbers declined under the SNP government?

As the general election looms, the SNP’s record in government has been under increasing pressure.

While the vote in June will elect members to Westminster, it has been the devolved policy of education that has been under the microscope.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

The Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has been behind a number of attacks on the education record of Nicola Sturgeon’s party.

In an article in the Daily Record on 30 May, Dugdale criticised the last ten years of SNP government, and said there had been a significant decline in the number of teachers.

Ferret Fact Service looked at the numbers behind the Scottish Labour leader’s claim, and found it to be True.


Statistics on the number of teachers, class sizes and pupil to teacher ratios are collected in the Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland (SSSS).

These figures have been published annually since 2010, and before that as part of the yearly Teachers Census report. Both sets of figures are for those working in publicly-funded schools.

The SNP began governing Scotland in 2007, in a minority administration. The revised statistics for 2007 (published in 2009 to correct data errors) show the total number of teachers was 55,089. This was made up of 52,452 school-based staff, 964 classed as centrally-employed, and 1,672 teaching in pre-school.

The latest statistics published in December 2016 show Scotland’s total number of publicly-funded schoolteachers at 50,970.

The general trend during the SNP’s decade in government has been a reduction in teacher numbers, with over 4,000 fewer staff than in 2007.

There were also significant cuts to teacher training places in Scotland between 2007 and 2010, a decision that the SNP argued was to counteract an oversupply of teachers which left many unable to find work. Recently, education secretary John Swinney admitted the Scottish Government had “probably over-corrected too far”, and places have been increased for the last six years.

In defence of its record in government, the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have often pointed out that the ratio of pupils to teachers has been maintained as there have been fewer children attending school.

Pupil to student ratios are also collated yearly, and give an indication of the ability of a teacher to give each pupil the appropriate level of attention and assistance. A higher ratio means there are more pupils to each school teacher.

On this measure the picture looks better for the SNP. Ratios have increased slightly since they assumed power, though in both primary and secondary school ratios have flatlined or marginally decreased in the last few years. This could be attributed to a decrease in the number of pupils in education in Scotland.

There are a number of ways in which the Scottish Government’s record can be measured. Some claims that have been made on education have been misleading, but it is clear that Kezia Dugdale’s statement on teacher numbers does add up.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: True

While the SNP have pointed to the ratio of pupils to teachers staying at a similar level, there is no doubt that teacher numbers have significantly declined during the SNP’s time in charge at Holyrood. The Scottish Labour leader’s claim that there are 4,000 fewer teachers in Scotland’s schools than when Nicola Sturgeon’s party came into power is accurate.

This claim is True

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

In response to an evidence request, Scottish Labour provided FFS with links to the Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland 2016 report.

Photo thanks to Milan Tvrdy, Public Domain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi! To read more you need to login.
Not a member yet? Join our co-operative now to get unlimited access.
You can join using Direct Debit, payment card or Paypal. Cancel at any time. If you are on a low-income you may be eligible for a free sponsored membership. Having trouble logging in? Try here.
Hi! To read more you need to login.
Not a member yet?
Hi! You can login using the form below.
Not registered yet?
Having trouble logging in? Try here.
Back our next investigation
Can you help us find out who really runs Scotland?