SCHOOLS in inner London and the South-east have the largest classes in the country despite having more teachers than schools in other regions, according to an analysis by the second largest teaching union.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers blamed heads and local education authorities for failing to manage bureaucracy and for creating a culture where senior staff spend little time teaching.
It concluded that teachers having to carry out duties beyond their classroom work exacerbates the effect of staff shortages in some of the hardest hit areas in the country.
The analysis which was based on government figures for class sizes and staffing levels showed that primary classes in some parts of London contain three more pupils than would be expected given the level of staffing.
By contrast, the east of England and the East Midlands have smaller classes than would be expected.
Brian Clegg, assistant secretary of the NASUWT, said: "At a time when there is a teacher shortage, every LEA and school should be making the best use of the teachers they have got. The fact that LEAs with among the best staffing levels in the country can have among the worst class sizes shows that in some cases they are not."
He said the gap between class sizes and staffing in similar authorities occurred because teachers were doing less teaching and more administration.
He cited the example of primary schools in Kensington and Chelsea whose pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) is the best in the country, but who rank only 63 by class size. Neighbouring Westminster ranks 18 on PTR and 16 on class size.
London and the South-east have bigger classes than expected at both primary and secondary level but in some areas the picture is different.
The North-east, for example, compares well at primary level but its secondary classes are slightly larger than would be expected given schools'
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The freedom for manoeuvre for heads is very limited. Teachers'
contact time is already very high, particularly in primary schools. If heads could free up teachers and give them more professional time they would."
But the NASUWT's findings were supported by Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association. He said: "In some schools senior staff are spending far too much time doing administrative tasks which could be done by non-teaching staff and too little time in the classroom."
In a keynote speech last year, Education Secretary Estelle Morris argued that making better use of teachers and support staff is vital if workload is to be reduced and more people attracted into the profession.