Teachers fall by 2,000 in Wales

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The number of teachers in Wales has fallen by more than 2,000 in the last 30 years, according to data published by the Assembly Government.

The data shows that qualified teaching numbers within local authorities has dropped from 28,271 to 25,928 since 1980.

The greatest fall was at secondary level, from 14,857 inn 1980-81 to 12,782 this year.

Levels of nursery teachers more than halved over the period, from 159 to 74.

The number of primary school teachers has remained steady, however, at around 13,000.

Following publication of the data, unions have voiced their concerns that local authorities may use falling pupil rolls as an excuse to cut jobs.

Heledd Hayes, of NUT Cymru, said: “We are expecting numbers to go up again so it’s very important that we don’t lose teachers that we need in future by making redundancies now. A broad, long-term approach is needed.”

In addition, rising birth rates could create problems in future, with teacher shortages and large classes once those children start to pass through the education system.

In 2009 there were 20 fewer schools than the previous year and a decrease in students in the education system of around 2,500. There were also 275 fewer teachers in local authority schools over the period.

The dwindling number of pupils is causing huge problems for councils across the country as they look to address the challenge of falling student rolls. Many are proposing mergers and closures; in rural areas the shutting of small village schools has long been a controversial policy.

But the problem for many councils is that they can no longer afford to continue funding education on such small scales.

Professor David Reynolds from the University of Plymouth said that the data is reflective of population trends over the period.

He said: “These statistics are related to population numbers and, presumably, the number of teaching assistants has probably gone up at the same time.

“That would mean that overall, the teaching workforce is up, but the actual number of teachers is down.”

Prof Reynolds said that falling pupil numbers should not push officials into thinking short term about staffing levels.

“If you look at the birth rate picking up from 2005-06 then it means holding on to teachers because the birth rate means pupil numbers will go up, rather than letting teachers go.

“As schools close or get smaller, you get economies of scale.”

A spokeswoman for the Assembly Government said: “There are various factors which affect teacher numbers.

“For example, class size limits might tend to increase numbers – or slow down a reduction – while transfers of sixth forms to tertiary colleges would reduce teacher numbers in local authority secondary schools.

“But primarily there are fewer teachers because there are fewer pupils and fewer schools.”