Ill- discipline and underachievement in state schools can only be dealt with if class sizes are slashed to levels enjoyed in the independent sector, Midland teachers and politicians have claimed.

The call came after comments by Schools Minister and Labour MP for Redditch Jacqui Smith appeared to sanction a doubling in class sizes. She denied that had been her intention.

They said instead of the multitude of new initiatives eliminating from Whitehall, Ministers should focus on reducing the teacher/pupil ratio in state schools.

Teachers claimed "good practice" within the independent sector would address poor behaviour identified as the biggest reason for people leaving the profession.

Juliet Brunner, a Conservative councillor in Ms Smith's constituency, said: "If we went back to basics and we looked at dropping class sizes, then perhaps some of the issues around behaviour and literacy and numeracy can be really tackled. How many children

will have to suffer before lesson are learned."

Brian Carter, Midland regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said with falling birth rates the Government now had a "heaven sent" opportunity to improve pupil/teacher ratios in primary schools.

"There is a ten per cent reduction in primary school numbers," he said. "I can't understand why we are not seizing the opportunity to do that now at the level the independent school sector enjoys.

"What we should learn from that is the standards they achieve can be replicated in the state sector if there is a reduction in class sizes."

Dr Steven King, of the Independent Schools Association, said ill-discipline was much easier to tackle, "if you have a small class".

"The average size of an independent school is 400 so the head teacher will probably know each pupil. If the head doesn't know the profile of each pupil it is more difficult to enforce discipline."