Staffing ratios should improve as pupil numbers begin to fall

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Have pupil:teacher ratios been falling or rising? Are Welsh schools more generously staffed than the rest of the UK? And are primary schools still the poor relations? New figures from the Department for Education and Skills provide answers to these questions and offer some fascinating insights into what has happened to pupil:teacher ratios in the UK over the past decade.

At the start of the 1990s, pupil numbers were beginning to rise again, after falling sharply during the 1980s. As teacher numbers had not fallen nearly as fast as pupil rolls during the 1980s, the staffing ratios were close to their best-ever levels in 1990-91. From then on, there was a decade of rising pupil numbers, and falling real expenditure, at least in England. By January 2000, staffing ratios in secondary schools across the UK were worse than in 1990-91.

This was not the case in primaries, however. By 1999-2000, the staffing position in primary schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was better than it had been in 1990-91. Only England failed to match the early 1990s figures. Nevertheless, as the impact of the First Comprehensive Spending Review has begun to be felt, the ratios have started to improve in England, too.

Despite the recent improvements, the UK fared badly in a recent international comparison of pupil:teacher ratios by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The UK was placed 17th out of 22 countries in the primary table, even though private institutions were included, and 15th for secondaries.

Declining pupil numbers should lead to improvements in staffing over the next few years, unless there is a spending clampdown. By the end of this decade, the figures might even be better than they were 12 years ago. But as large numbers of classroom assistants begin to take on teaching roles, it will become increasingly difficult to tell how meaningful these statistics are.

John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today