The overall figures for January 2002 clearly demonstrate the success of the drive to cut primary class sizes. As this extra investment has coincided with a fall in the number of pupils entering primary schools, pupil-teacher ratios have improved markedly in some authorities. As a result, the gap between primary and secondary school is now at its narrowest ever nationally - just 5.6 pupils per teacher. In 1998 - the year after Labour came to power - it was some 6.8 pupils per teacher.
During the past year, many LEAs have also seen some improvement in secondary schools. However, in January 2002, 24 authorities still recorded their worst-ever secondary staffing ratios. Ten of these are unitary authorities created in the late 1990s - Portsmouth and Kingston upon Hull now have more than 19 secondary pupils per teacher. Two are county councils and the remaining 12 are in London. But two-thirds of the capital's local authorities have secondary levels that are better than the national average. By contrast, three-quarters of England's county councils have secondary staffing levels that are worse than the national average. There is less variation in the primary sector, with virtually all LEAs clustered within 1.5 pupils per teacher of the national average of 22.5.
Good news on pupil-teacher ratios is always welcome. But these figures confirm that teacher supply is a complex equation. Money has to be found for extra posts, but enough must be kept in reserve to ensure competitive salaries for the existing workforce.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a director of Education Data Surveys. Email: email@example.com