SNP Government increases teacher numbers to create far superior pupil/teacher ratios and much smaller attainment gaps than in England


Note: This wikipedia scattergraph based on US data is the only one I could find. It shows the correlation between pupil/teacher ratio and attainment. It’s a negative correlation so the smaller the number of pupils per teacher the greater the reading performance. Admittedly, it’s not a very strong correlation suggesting other factors matter too.

There are now 543 more teachers in Scottish schools. In 2017, only 631 P1 pupils were taught in classes of more than 26 compared to 16 845 in 2006 at the end of the Lab/Lib Dem coalition.

There are 51 500 teachers in Scottish schools and the pupil/teacher ratio is now 13.6 pupils per teacher, down from (better than) 13.7 in 2016. This ratio is an important indicator of the time teachers have to engage with pupils and is likely to have played a major part in narrowing attainment gaps.

In England, there were 457 300 teachers in 2016, up by 400 from 2015. The pupil/teacher ratio in 2016 was 17.6 pupils per teacher. England’s population is almost exactly ten times that of Scotland, so you might have expected there to be around 515 000 teachers there. The increase of 400 teachers, in England, from 2015 to 2016, is small when compared with the Scottish Government’s increase of 543 between 2016 and 2017 in a country with a tenth of the population.

So, the pupil/teacher ratio in Scotland is significantly better than that in England. While the research evidence is not conclusive, the Department of Education in England would like to see smaller classes than the current ratio would allow. According to their own report, smaller classes inevitably increase: ‘the time when individual pupils are the focus of the teacher’s attention, increases active interaction between pupils and teachers and increases pupils’ engagement particularly for pupils attaining at lower levels.’

Department of Education (England) 2011:

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report, the attainment gap, in England and Scotland, is only the same for 11-year-olds (often difficult early adolescent boys) at 20% but the gap for 5-year-olds is only 16% in Scotland compared to 20% in England and for 16-year-olds the gap in Scotland is only 20% compared to 28% in England. Note the massive fall in the latter gap from 33% to 20% in the period of SNP Government.

The pupil/teacher ratio is only one of several factors likely to narrow attainment gaps, but it is an important one and one which governments can do something directly about. Once more, this suggests the SNP government in Scotland is making a difference, not seen under previous Labour/Lib Dem administrations and clearly not a high priority for the Tory one in Westminster.

Footnote: UK fee-paying schools use their ratio of 9 pupils per teacher as a marketing tool and say:

‘Significantly smaller class sizes are proven to improve academic achievement as the ability to spend more time with each child allows teachers to get to know their personal strengths, weaknesses and learning styles, ensuring that their individual needs are met.’



7 thoughts on “SNP Government increases teacher numbers to create far superior pupil/teacher ratios and much smaller attainment gaps than in England

  1. Alasdair Macdonald December 13, 2017 / 8:25 pm

    Generally, smaller pupil/teacher ratios tend to be most effective with the younger age groups. So focussing the ‘pupil premium’ at pre-school and early years would, in my opinion be the optimal strategy for the deployment of these funds.

    The policy is innovative and still facing opposition from Councils and from the teacher unions and some Head Teachers are a bit uncertain about such responsibility and the accountability. So, I think that Mr Swinney has been as uncontroversial as possible, by insisting on the devolution of powers to the school level goes ahead – the key concept to be won – and distributing the funds by a fairly straightforward formula. He has got his headline political bonus with the 543 more teachers. (The curmudgeonly comment by the most boring man in the world, Mr Iain Gray, yesterday, was indicative of the wholly uncreative, unco-operative attitudes of the knuckle-draggers on the Labour benches.)

    I think that he would be advised to have a review of the impact in a year or two – because it will take a while for any effect to show up – and to adjust the funding distribution formula so that it shifts the larger part of the funding towards earlier years. I think it would also be useful to give the formula a nudge so that more classroom assistants are deployed and the number of additional teachers abated a little – each teacher’s salary could employ 2 – 3 classroom assistants especially as many of the latter are happy with shorter hours or part-time contracts because of family commitments.


    • johnrobertson834 December 14, 2017 / 10:41 am

      Thanks for what looks like expert opinion here. As for Iain, Gray by name, grey by nature.


      • Alasdair Macdonald December 14, 2017 / 12:26 pm

        I can recall a presentation which Professor John Curtice made to the Glasgow Philosophical Society in which he was discussing the SNP win in 2012, in which an overall majority was achieved under a system designed to make it very difficult to happen. He was asked how much of this could be attributed to the personality and drive of Mr Alex Salmond. Professor Curtice opened his reply with, “Well, he got a great deal of support from Iain Gray!” He then went on to recount the fiasco in Central Station with Sean Clerkin and the miasma of dreariness that seemed to descend on everything around him; a sort of reverse Midas.


  2. Ludo Thierry December 13, 2017 / 9:52 pm

    A bit of good news on one area of Education spending that needs urgent reform (from the beeb England website – I’m suspecting it will have good effect here in Scotland also):

    Vice chancellors’ pay: Universities to agree new code
    There will also have to be disclosure of benefits, such as subsidised housing and expenses.
    The size of pay gaps between university heads and academic staff will also have to be published.


    • Alasdair Macdonald December 14, 2017 / 12:20 pm

      The remuneration issue in Higher Education has been a growing and increasingly festering sore for some years now, with telephone number salaries and other benefits for very senior staff and increasing numbers of lecturing staff on zero hours contracts, with many having to work in several institutions. Further Education is emulating this, too.

      HE and FE in Scotland has been a genuine international success story and something about which we can take much satisfaction, but let us ensure that the fruits of this success are much more equitably distributed amongst all the staff, academic and non-academic who contribute to this.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s