Thousands of children are being taught by demoralised teachers in crumbling schools propped up by parental cash, according to a report published this week by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations.
The report is based on the NCPTA's third five-yearly school survey, in which 2,000 schools took part. It paints a depressing picture of rising class sizes, significant shortages of secondary teachers and widespread job losses because of budget constraints. It also shows that parents are providing multi-million-pound support for schools through fund-raising, sponsored events, voluntary contributions or covenants.
Launching the report, NCPTA spokesman Sandi Marshall said: "The only glimmer of light is the professionalism of the teaching staff - 51 per cent of people felt the quality of education had improved in spite of all this. Teachers have run themselves ragged to make sure our children don't suffer."
Schools report that morale among teachers has worsened since 1991, when the survey was last conducted. More now claim that they have insufficient teachers, that class sizes have increased, that the amount of non-contact time has fallen and that specialist areas are even more overcrowded.
Sean Rogers, chairman-elect of the NCPTA, dubbed the report "the Alternative Office for Standards in Education Report" on the state of the nation's schools. "I defy Chris Woodhead to read this and saythat 2,000 schools are wrong, " he said.
Almost half the schools surveyed report that their classes are generally larger than than five years ago. Only 11 per cent say that they are generally smaller.
A fifth of secondary schools report that they do not have enough maths teachers and almost as many say that they are short of Englishand information technology teachers. Sixteen per cent say that they are lacking modern languages teachers.
Five years ago, a quarter of schools said that they had been forced to cut staff because of budget constraints. This year, more than a third say that they have had to make cuts. Almost three-fifths of the jobs that have been cut are teaching posts. There has also been a significant reduction in lunch-time supervisors.
It is clear that schools are relying on parents to provide essential educational books and equipment - 1,635 of the 1,863 schools surveyed say that they have asked for help.
But the "official" demands for cash help from parents are not as heavy as they were five years ago. In 1991, 95 per cent of primaries asked the Home School Association for help with books and equipment. This year 91 per cent have done so. In the secondaries the drop is more dramatic - from 83 per cent to 74 per cent. Direct requests to parents for help have also dropped. While in 1991, 50 per cent of primaries asked for money, this year only 20 per cent did so. The percentage of secondaries asking for money has fallen from 48 per cent to 32 per cent.
Nevertheless, the NCPTA says that the amount of money raised by parents this year is higher than ever before, and that parents are being manipulated into giving cash to schools through weekly demands for contributions towards trips and activities linked to the curriculum.
In 1991, fund-raising allowed Pounds 8.35 per primary child and Pounds 4.88 per secondary pupil to be spent by home-school associations. This year the equivalent figures are Pounds 11.03 per primary child and Pounds 4.80 per secondary pupil.
The bulk of the money raised by parents in primary schools is spent on computer equipment, classroom materials and playgrounds, despite NCPTAadvice that money raised by parents should not be usedto subsidise the school budget. In secondary schools, "transport support" gets the most, followed by classroom materials and computer equipment.
The NCPTA is now calling for a thorough review of education funding and the introduction of a British Standard for education. It wants a statutory maximum class size, good quality buildings and access to books and equipment Mr Rogers said: "There is a limit to parents' patience. All political parties should know they can no longer take parental patience and tolerance for granted."