The figures, the first official ones to be disclosed since the Government left the education service significantly underfunded last spring, come from the Local Government Management Board, the employers' organisation. The board surveyed how many redundancies were made in schools last July. They include 856 compulsory redundancies, known to be an area the Government is particularly sensitive about.
The figures are worse than any previous estimates, but are exactly in line with the warning given in private nearly a year ago to cabinet colleagues by Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, of the consequences of the Government's not meeting the teachers' pay award.
Ministers only partially heeded her warning. Marginal increases in spending on education were allowed, but the teachers' 2.7 per cent pay award was not funded by central government. That was left to local education authorities, which varied widely in their ability to give schools the money to pay the teachers extra. It was the second year running in which the Government had not funded the award.
As a direct result, classes in many parts of the country have increased in size this September as teachers have been maderedundant, taken voluntary redundancy or not been replaced when they moved or retired. Children with learning problems, such as mild dyslexia, are missing out on extra support.
Primary schools, which have smaller budgets and less scope for financial manoeuvre, have been hardest hit. Several classes in the mid-40s have been reported. Even before these latest cuts, figures from the Department for Education and Employment for last year showed that more than one-third of classes have more than 31 pupils and 20,000 pupils were in classes of more than 41. This year's figures are expected to be worse.
In one small Bedfordshire village primary school teachers have taken a pay cut to keep the show on the road. They are paid for a part-time job but are working full time. And it is not only primary schools that are up against it. One Midlands secondary school is reported to have 52 children in a practical class that should have about half that number.
The Government says that teacher numbers increased by 2,560 during 1994 but this figure is affected by an increase in the number of part-timers in the system.
The Local Government Board has so far received information from 77 local education authorities, two-thirds of the total in England and Wales. This shows that 3,451 teachers were made redundant last July, 571 of them compulsorily. If this trend is reflected throughout the one-third of local education authorities that have not reported so far, the number of redundancies rises to 5,165, with 856 of them compulsory. When added to the 5,000 extra teachers estimated by local education authorities to be needed to retain last year's pupil to teacher ratio in the face of an extra 120,000 pupils expected in schools this academic year because of a past rise in the birth rate, the serious nature of the teacher shortfall is demonstrated.
The Government is now in a very serious bind over the funding of education in the run-up to the next general election. Mrs Shephard's leaked remarks about the under-resourcing of education to cabinet colleagues two weeks ago is clear evidence of this.
Parents of pupils in oversized classes are furious. Teachers and school governors are sick and tired of having to make do and mend. A strong alliance of the three groups is growing. More and more local authorities are co- opting parent representatives on to education committees. This Saturday, thousands of people are expected to demonstrate in London in a rally called by Face - Fight Against Cuts in Education - an action group launched early this year on the back of anger over education spending losses.
If anything, parents are now more militant than teachers. A Harris poll published on Tuesday revealed that two out of three of the parents questioned were willing to support teachers taking industrial action, short of strikes, over class sizes. But the poll, conducted for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, found that teachers were less enthusiastic about industrial action - only half of those questioned were willing to take industrial action.
This year Mrs Shephard said local education authorities and schools could dip into their cash reserves to cope with the spending settlement.
They did. Education takes more than half of local authority budgets and reserves held by English councils will plunge from pounds 4.8bn at the end of March this year to pounds 3.9bn by the end of next March. Much of this is held in reserve for specific reasons such as insurance, emergencies, cash flow and potential shortfalls in council tax or business rates.
The Audit Commission in its annual report on local government audits highlighted the problem of inadequate balances in its 1993/94 audits. Nearly one in three London boroughs and one in four district councils were found to have inadequate balances.
School reserves, too, have fallen. There are primary schools now that have nothing in reserve whose headteachers are praying for a mild winter because teachers' hours will have to be cut if fuel bills are higher than anticipated.
Reserves can only be spent once. Even schools that have escaped unharmed this year - for example, in London, where the spending settlement was more generous - will begin to feel the pinch next year.
According to Tony Travers, a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics who specialises in local government finance, the Government has only three real options. These are: to peg the pay settlement to whatever increase in spending is allowed, abolish expenditure capping on local authorities, or meet the pay award in full.
Pegging teachers' pay to a maximum of 1 per cent, the biggest likely increase in public sector spending, would enrage the teaching profession and endanger co-operation with government reforms on curriculum and testing. The Government is unlikely to want to pick a fight with the teachers and risk disruption in the classrooms, which can be clearly sourced to government decisions when a general election is pending. As it is, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers is already threatening industrial action if class sizes remain too big.
Throwing off the spending cap is already the source of disagreement between ministers, with John Gummer, the Environment Secretary, supporting it, and Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer, against it because it will be inflationary.
If the caps were removed, it could be a politically acute move for the Government. Local authorities would then spend more by raising local taxes, risking local outrage, particularly from businesses. If the education system or any other local authority-run service was then still not perceived to be performing well, central government could then more easily blame local government.
The chance of the pay award being met took a blow after the Chancellor of the Exchequer's remarks last week insisting that public sector pay rises had to be met by efficiency savings.
Tony Travers says the public perception that things are going badly wrong in the schools is in part due to the mismatch between the rising personal finances of most people and the falling finances of schools in recent years.
"If the living standards of most people are rising and the money allowed to schools is going down, a gap of public perception widens and creates a feelbad factor," he says. "If education spending had not changed in real terms in the past 30 years, schools would now seem Dickensian to parents.
"Some schools have done quite badly but there is no such thing as a gold standard of a well-resourced school and an under-resourced school. It's what people believe."
John Howson of the National Educational Assessment Centre at Oxford Brookes University argues that it is too late for the Government to capitalise electorally by improving education spending.
Mr Howson, who has been monitoring pupil-teacher ratios for 15 years, has found that they began improving in the Fifties but started to worsen in primary schools in the mid-Eighties and in secondary schools by the end of the Eighties.
He says that even if the Cabinet authorised extra spending on education, figures for any improved pupil-teacher ratios would not be available until summer 1997 at the earliest and more likely not until 1998.
"Gillian Shephard lost the battle last year when she didn't get the extra resources for education. There is no feelgood factor in education."
`I care so much about what I do but you get demoralised'
Lorna Wazir took voluntary redundancy from Springfield Lower School in Kempston, a suburb of Bedfordshire, last July - in effect, retiring a year early - to ensure that a younger member of staff did not have to go,
"I had intended to go on until retirement, but I thought it would ease things for the school if I went early. Things were very strained financially. The school was able to save pounds 5,000 or pounds 6,000 on my salary.
"I think these cuts are outrageous. I love education - it has been my passion after my husband and children - but how can you possibly do a good job when there are 39 in the class? I care so much about what I do but you get demoralised. The year before last I had 36 six- and seven- year-olds in the class and I got so tired.
"You are running all the time and you are still not doing it well enough. It may have been OK to have big classes 30 years ago, when children just sat still and looked at the board, but that is impossible with all the learning activities we do now."
"I've got a new job as head of the International School in Baghdad, where the maximum class size is 22."
`One classroom is empty not for lack of children but for lack of a teacher'
Annette Fisher is head of Springfield Lower School in Kempston, Bedford, where Lorna Wazir taught until last July.
As well as losing Mrs Wazir, she had to end the temporary contract of another teacher.
"Our eight- and nine-year-olds are in classes of 39 and 38. There are also classes of 37 and 36 and two of 35.
"We lost money because 90 children moved on from the school last July and we only took in 72 this September. One classroom is empty - not for lack of children but for lack of a teacher to teach them.
"I am cynical about statistics. I can only say what is happening to our children now. The classes they are in are too large. It is a physical problem of space as well as the limited number of interactions you can have with any one child when there are so many of them.
"Learning support for special needs has been savaged. It gets harder and harder to prove a case for a child who needs more help than we are able to offer - and in the end it is all down to money.
"We know who is to blame for all this - it's central government. Bedfordshire has been very good to us."
`I have lost out financially and in my career development'
Stan is one of around 850 teachers made compulsorily redundant last July because of the national cuts in spending on education. The axe came after 10 years of teaching humanities at a Derbyshire comprehensive school, and he is bitter. He is 40 and has been unable to find another teaching job.
"The budget was not large enough to cover all the costs so certain posts were identified for redundancy. Class sizes were rejigged. Younger pupils were in classes of just over 30; they are in classes of 35,36 and 37 now.
"I have lost out financially and I have lost out in my career development. The school and the children have lost out in terms of my experience."
"I used to run an after-school GCSE club. I ran the school youth club all in my own time. I love teaching. I am an enthusiast about it.
"Redundancy has come as a great shock. I am now working as an educational social worker for pounds 5,000 less than what I earned as a teacher.
"I have an abiding sense of rage about what has happened. I have been ridden over roughshod and the school is left with larger classes and less experienced, and therefore less expensive, teachers."
Oversized, overstretched and underfunded
MIKE TURNER, headteacher of Goring Church of England Primary School in Oxfordshire, where there are 45 eight- and nine-year-olds in one class: " I have lost just over one full-time teacher, 21 hours in learning support assistant time and three hours of administration time. I have pounds 300 in reserve for emergency maintenance. This is a very popular school and I cut everything I could last year to protect the pupil-teacher ratio. I came here in 1978 as deputy and it has never been this bad financially before."
SIMON GOODENOUGH, chairman of the National Governors Council: "The Government says you can't throw money at education and then the Prime Minister admits that if you want the best, you need more money and he gives it to grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges."
NIGEL DE GRUCHY, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers: "The Government will pay a very heavy price at the next general election over class size. Why on earth does the Prime Minister think the issue of grant-maintained schools is sexy and class size is not?"
MARGARET MORRISEY, national spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations:
"A lot of the behaviour and discipline problems in schools that John Major has been going on about are down to special needs not being met, and yet schools are having to cut back on special needs support. We have not got the system right."