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Staffing levels expose widening divide

CRITICS of the independent-state school divide have never had more reason to complain about differences in staffing levels in the two sectors.

The disparity in the pupil-teacher ratios in the sectors has never been greater. A year ago, the ratio in the independent sector, which includes city technology colleges, dipped below 10 pupils per teacher for the first time. Conversely, in state secondaries, ratios were reaching a level last seen in the early 1970s, wiping out many of the staffing improvements of the previous 25 years.

In the primary sector, ratios peaked in 1998 and - largely because of funding to cut infant classes to 30 pupils - they have been improving ever since. However, in January 2000 they had still not returned to their 1995 level. Nevertheless, continued extra funding, plus a declining birth rate, should produce further reductions or at least the next five years.

The deterioration in secondary ratios during the 1990s was dramatic. The growth in pupil numbers, and funding squeeze, caused ratios to worsen from 15.3:1 in 1990 to 17.2:1 in January 2000. But some leducation authorities continue to be much more generously staffed than others.

At primary level the gap between the best and worst authorities has narrowed. In 1991, the difference was 7.6 pupils per teacher; by 2000 that was 6.5. But in the secondary sector the gap widened during the same period from four to five pupils per teacher.

The gap between the average ratio in the primary and secondary sectors has also narrowed in recent years and there is now just a 6.1 pupil difference compared with 7 in 1975.

John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University.

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