5,000 schools hit by books crisis

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Shortages of books and equipment are hampering children's education in more than 5,000 schools, according to a Labour estimate. But parents said they thought it only "scratched the surface" of educational neglect.

The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations believes that parents now spend more than pounds 100m in direct contributions to schools, many for "essentials".

The latest estimate on the impact of book shortages was calculated by Labour from figures supplied by the Government's chief schools inspector, Chris Woodhead. He confirmed that two years ago in a sample survey, his inspectors found book shortages "adversely affected lessons" in 13 per cent of primary schools and 23 per cent of secondary schools.

The Labour education spokeswoman, Estelle Morris, said that if the survey was representative, 5,567 schools would be affected across Britain.

She said: "These figures from the Government's inspectors show that thousands of schools across the country have been left with shortages of books and equipment which, in Mr Woodhead's words, are adversely affecting the standard of lessons. Parents are having to subsidise the cost of books."

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the NCPTA, said: "I am surprised the figure of schools is so low. Our associations know the problem is far worse. They could tell Mr Woodhead about pupils whose families live miles apart being expected to share books, and about others who have never seen a book - just endless photocopied pages."

Groups representing all faiths are to hold a series of conferences a fresh attempt to resolve the row over religious assemblies in schools. The law requiring a daily act of "broadly Christian" worship in schools is widely flouted. But the Government refuses to relax it, despite evidence that at least four out of ten secondary schools ignore it and eight out of ten primary schools cannot guarantee that it will be upheld.