TEACHERS are leaving state schools to join the private sector in ever-greater numbers, new figures published this week reveal.
Nearly 2,000 state-school teachers moved into the independent sector in the past year, but fewer than 650 went in the opposite direction, giving private schools a net gain of 1,332 teachers.
The gain is the fourth consecutive yearly increase in the net number of teachers swapping from state to private schools, statistics from the Independent Schools Council show. David Woodhead, of the ISC, said: "One is tempted to say there must be a connection with the sheer drudgery of having to meet government regulations in the maintained sector."
The figures come amid a new row over government claims this week to have met a manifesto target of recruiting 10,000 extra state-school teachers.
Professor John Howson, who runs research firm Education Data Surveys, said two-thirds of the increases since 2001 could be accounted for by people who were not fully qualified. Only about 4,000 were teachers "capable of being registered by the General Teaching Council", he said.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was equally sceptical: "The Government's figures must be taken with a very large pinch of salt."
The ISC statistics show private schools are growing in popularity, not only with teachers in spite of average fee increases of 7 per cent. The census reveals the number of boys attending boarding school has risen for the first time in 20 years.
And the figures, which cover the ISC's 1,277 member schools, represent eight years of continuous growth for the independent sector.
Boarding showed its second consecutive year of growth after more than a decade of falling numbers. Overall there was an increase of nearly 800 pupils in the sector compared to last year, with numbers of boys up by 0.62 per cent and girls up by 1.82 per cent.
Growth in private schools overall came mainly at secondary level, with the strongest rise of 1.9 per cent at ages 16 to 19.
The ISC said parents choose private schools because of small classes and dissatisfaction with the state sector. The pupil-teacher ratio in its schools improved slightly this year, at 10.36 pupils per teacher compared to 10.49 in 2002.
In contrast, Labour was accused this week of breaking another promise after official figures revealed the number of infants in oversized state-school classes almost doubled last year.
Approximately 13,000 five to seven-year-olds are now taught in classes of more than 30, despite the Government's claim to have met its pledge to end the practice by 2002.
Class sizes rose slightly in Reception and key stage 1 classes but fell in Years 3 and 5. In secondary school they increased in every year except Year 9.
Average class sizes remained constant at 26.3 for primaries and 21.9 for secondaries, although there are now fewer teachers per pupil overall.
A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "In September 1998 there were 354,000 infants in classes of more than 30. Now, almost 99 per cent of infant classes are under 30 - an enormous achievement by any standard."