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13 August 2015, 07:13
Some children receive the equivalent of two years less schooling than others due to a wide variation in the amount of time teachers spend teaching, a think tank has found.
Council-run schools must be open for 190 days a year but there is no statutory minimum for the amount of time teachers should actually spend with pupils.
As a result, some primary school teachers spend an average of four-and-a-half hours a day teaching while others teach for over five hours a day, according to research by Reform Scotland.
The gulf between secondary schools is even wider, with some teachers doing four-and-a-half hours a day and others teaching for over five-and-a-half hours.
The total difference of 2,268 hours over the course of 12 years at school is the equivalent of two years additional teaching time in the most pupil-focused areas.
Council umbrella body Cosla has accused the think tank of "headline grabbing'', insisting the focus should be on results rather than time spent teaching.
Reform Scotland asked councils how many hours of teaching time per year children received, not including breaks or lunch.
Dundee offers 855 hours a year at both primary and secondary, but nearby Aberdeenshire offers 1,000 hours at primary and 1,100 hours at secondary.
Reform Scotland's research director Alison Payne said: "We do not object to the variation in hours per se, because we believe that local authorities, and indeed individual schools, should have more control over their operation.
"However, we strongly object to the lack of transparency which appears to prevent parents from gaining full knowledge of this situation.
"We seriously doubt, for example, that many parents in Dundee will realise that their children will receive the equivalent of two years less teaching time than their peers just up the road in Aberdeenshire.
"This is unfair, unequal and wrong, because it prevents parents from making choices with the full information in mind.''
Reform Scotland said the issue of school hours and local control over raising income were linked, and have repeated their call for the Scottish Government to devolve income tax powers from Holyrood directly to councils.
"Unless councils have full control over at least some of their tax income, if savings have to be made services have to be cut as they have no ability to increase tax,'' the think tank said.
"Equally, if councils wish to increase the number of school hours, without control over tax income and greater local autonomy, they would struggle to do so.''
Councillor Stephanie Primrose, Cosla's education spokeswoman, said: "We really have to get away from simplistic input measures and be mature enough to focus on outcomes.
"We are unaware of any evidence which establishes a direct link between time spent in school and how well pupils perform.''
Ms Primrose welcomed Reform Scotland's conclusion that councils should keep control over the school timetable and gain control over local income tax, but called for a more "meaningful'' analysis rather than simply presenting raw figures.
"This seems less about shedding light on an issue and more about seeking headlines days before the school year starts,'' she said.
Scottish Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "I am sure this research will disturb many parents.
"School contact time does not necessarily correlate with the quality of education on offer but two years is a very substantial difference.''