The council’s political leader has criticised a Scottish government deal which calls for local authorities not to cut teacher numbers in exchange for cash.
Gary Robinson dismissed Shetland’s £300,000 share of a £41 million Holyrood pie as a “drop in the ocean”, and less than 10 per cent of the cost of maintaining teacher numbers.
He is now waiting on an islands education summit before Scottish government minister Angela Constance, and possibly fellow island leaders from Orkney and Western Isles, to help address the problem.
Mr Robinson said the problem emerged after a nationwide 13.5:1 pupil to teacher ratio target was narrowly missed.
Talks between the Scottish government and Cosla duly followed, with the government eventually insisting an “absolute number” of teachers should be maintained.
“Whatever the number of teachers you had in the [schools] census last year is the number you have to keep, regardless of whether your school roll is going down, as ours is,” he said.
Asked if he considered it worth the bother, Mr Robinson added: “For us, it really isn’t. And the simple reason for that is the money for schools and for teachers goes through the local government funding formula, and that ensures the money follows the pupils and not the teachers.
“In Shetland we’ve got the highest pupil to teacher ratio in the country, at 10 pupils to one. We’d met the target by some considerable margin and the amount of money on the table for us is just over £300,000.
“We argued that was a drop in the ocean, because the difference between the 10:1 ratio that Shetland Islands
Council has and the 13 and a half to one ratio that was acceptable to the Scottish government is somewhere between three and a half and four million pounds. We were being offered less than 10 per cent of the cost of maintaining the teacher numbers that we have.
“John Swinney tried to say that this was a fair deal. I’m sure it was a fair deal for some people, but in our case it was actually a very unfair deal.”
He said there were many instances where the government was failing to maintain teacher numbers, while authorities like Shetland had more than “met the match” and were not being adequately compensated.
The problem has come against a nationwide shortage of teachers. Mr Robinson said Aberdeenshire Council was busily trying to recruit 148 teachers, while Fife was looking for 88. Other authorities, such as Aberdeen City, had been offering “golden hellos” to any new teachers they could recruit, the political leader said.
He added Shetland had pretty much a full complement of teaching staff, but there were fewer youngsters to fill the classrooms.
“Overall, our pupil numbers are declining and we would have liked to have retained the ability to reduce teacher numbers – by no more than the amount that pupil numbers are reducing.
“We argued until the last minute with the Scottish government, because when they couldn’t reach agreement with Cosla they turned to individual councils and put pressure on each council then to accept a deal.”
However, he said the education secretary had agreed to meet the council to discuss the issue. He said he hoped it would take place before September.
“That is a welcome concession from the government,” he added.