THE Prime Minister this week admitted that pupil:teacher ratios in secondary schools had worsened since Labour came to power.
Tony Blair agreed during parliamentary questions that thousands more teachers were needed to return secondary classes to their 1997 sizes.
The average secondary school now has 17.1 pupils per teacher, the Liberal Democrats revealed.The figures have risen steadily since 1989 when there were 15 pupils per teacher. They have not been at the present level since 1975 when there were 17.2 pupils per teacher.
The decline would have been even more dramatic if many local education authorities had not spent more on education than the Government suggested they should, warned Phil Willis, the Lib Dem education spokesman.
Almost 5,000 extra secondary teachers would be needed to reduce pupil:teacher ratios to the level when Labour came into power, Mr Willis said.
This does not include the 4,000 secondary teachers needed to fill vacancies in September, he added.
Mr Willis said: "This is a shocking indictment of Government sending cuts. By robbing Peter to pay Paul, they have achieved their class size improvements in primary schools at the expense of funding for secondary schools.
"London has been especially badly hit with 25 of the 32 boroughs reporting a deterioration in their pupil:teacher ratios between 1999 and 2000."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"Subject-choice patterns and health and safety concerns in subjects such as science and technology mean that smaller groups are needed in secondary schools."
Schools with sixth forms have been hit particularly hard because they had been forced to divert resources into introducing the new broader sixth-form curriculum this year, he added.
But an adviser to Education Secretary David Blunkett said that new figures to be published in January would show that funding per secondary pupil had gone up by pound;360 since 1997, when Labour took power, whereas between 1994 and 1997 it had gone down by pound;230 in real terms.
He said: "The idea that there have been major cuts in the secondary sector is ludicrous."
Latest pupil:teacher ratios can be found at www.dfee.gov.ukstatistics