Ministers have been warned a task force is needed to tackle the issue of poor-quality school premises after analysis revealed thousands more pupils are receiving lessons in educationally inadequate buildings.

Figures also indicate a marked deceleration in the rate at which improvements or upgrades are taking place, as well as a near doubling in the number of learners attending campuses that have major structural defects or are at risk of failure.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has stressed a record number of schools are in good or satisfactory condition. She added that a £2 billion investment drive would benefit tens of thousands of pupils.

But Henry Maitles, emeritus professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland, told The Herald it was a “disgrace”, given the sums already invested, that there are any schools north of the Border still deemed to be poor or bad.

“That the figures have risen over the last year is bad news and, unless something is done about it, a downward trend is certain to continue,” he said. “Although it is not clear from the figures whether these are big secondary schools or a larger number of smaller schools, something needs to be done.

“Clearly, there is a need for a task force to immediately bring these schools up to standard. It will cost money. There should be no ‘bad’ schools in Scotland.”

According to the latest data, the number of pupils in buildings rated poor (C) or bad (D) for their ability to support quality learning and teaching jumped from 77,796 in 2021 to 80,385 this year. In percentage terms, the proportion increased from 11.1 per cent to 11.4% – the first rise since 2016.

Critics acknowledge the figures are not clear-cut, with the number of premises rated poor or bad for suitability declining from 309 to 295 between 2021 and 2022. However, they have also underlined signs that progress may be stalling.

Prof Maitles said he was particularly concerned that the number of pupils at schools where the fabric has been graded D (bad) increased from 855 in 2021 to 1,688 this year. He added: “I think these figures from the Scottish Government are very disappointing, especially so for the parents and the nearly 1,700 students who are in these sub-standard schools, which the Government itself deems ‘bad’, meaning effective learning is unlikely to take place.”

Dr Lindsay Paterson, formerly professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, highlighted a slowdown in percentage increases for schools rated good (A) or satisfactory (B) in the condition and suitability categories, and for pupils attending A or B-graded premises.

He noted that the proportion of schools deemed to be in the top two bands for condition and suitability jumped by 4.3% and 4.7%, respectively, between 2016 and 2019. However, these rises fell back to 2.1% and 1.8% in the 2019-22 period. Similarly, while the equivalent figures for the proportion of pupils in A and B-rated schools surged by 5.3% and 4.5% in 2016-19, the increases slowed to 2.1% and 0.9% over 2019-22.

Glasgow Times: Dr Lindsay Paterson said the the latest figures were very concerning.Dr Lindsay Paterson said the the latest figures were very concerning. (Image: Newsquest)

Dr Paterson said: “We know from the disruption during the Covid years that equipment and learning conditions are very important for children’s learning. These new statistics show the rate of improvement of learning conditions has slowed significantly.

“The children that will harm most are those whose families struggle to make ends meet even in the best of times. The looming difficulties with the cost of living will not help.

“It’s therefore all the more important that the learning conditions schools offer are at least satisfactory. That is as urgent a matter for Government policy as the crucial direct help to families with rising fuel bills.”

Ms Somerville has insisted work to boost the quality of Scotland’s school estate is progressing well. She said previously: “We now have a record number of schools in good or satisfactory condition.

“Our long-term commitment to education, in partnership with local government, is clear through our £2bn learning estate investment programme, which will benefit 50,000 learners across Scotland.

“These latest statistics illustrate how our investment is making a real difference to thousands of children and young people, with a record 281,070 children now being educated in good condition schools.

“It is also encouraging to see the number of free school meals provided to children up by over 30,000, since we extended universal provision across all of primary 1 to primary 5.”