Scandal of schools starved of books

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NEW-STYLE A-levels and changes to the national curriculum to be introduced by the Government next year will reveal widespread book shortages in schools, say campaigners. Schools are already desperately short of them, says the School Book Alliance.

Researchers from Keele University found about half of all GCSE pupils lacked the textbooks they needed for many core national curriculum subjects. The alliance, comprising teachers, parents, publishers and educationists says changes in the exams and the curriculum will aggravate the shortages.

From next year, the Government is encouraging most pupils to take four A-levels rather than three in the first year in the sixth form, putting pressure on staffing, equipment and books. For the brightest pupils there will be new "world-class" tests. Reforms to the national curriculum announced earlier this month will put dozens of new authors on the recommended list for English for the first time, including 20th-century classic writers such as Evelyn Waugh and many other modern writers including Susan Hill.

The curriculum has been revised for all 10 subjects and compulsory citizenship has been added for all pupils over the age of 11. There will be guidelines on how to teach citizenship to primary school pupils.

But the alliance questioned whether school would be able to afford enough books to enable them to cope with the reforms. In 1997, the United Kingdom was already bottom of the international league table for spending on school books. Schools spent, on average, pounds 23.02 per pupil compared with pounds 172 in Norway and up to pounds 123 in the Netherlands.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has made a series of grants to schools for books to mark the National Year of Reading. This year every school will receive pounds 4,000 specifically for books as part of the Government's efforts to raise literacy standards.

But the alliance says the new money will not go nearly far enough and that the reforms involve fundamental changes to many subjects. It argues that most A-level text books are designed for pupils taking two-year courses. Now pupils will take new AS exams after one year. New textbooks will also be needed for the "world-class tests" and schools will need more for citizenship lessons.

Exam boards are already discussing plans for GCSE exams in citizenship. The Government says the changes to the curriculum do not amount to a major revision: they aim to give teachers more freedom by cutting back compulsory content of subjects. And the world-class tests will not re- quire pupils to have extra know- ledge, they will simply involve more searching questions.

John Davies, director of the Educational Publishers' Council said: "The Government must support its commitment to improving learning standards by ensuring the provision of at least one book per pupil per subject."

Jeff Holman, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Funding is a key issue. We must ensure that schools have adequate funding before they can meet any additional or revised curricular requirements."