Schools forced to give low priority to books

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Primary schools' spending on books is less than one-third of what they need to cover the bare essentials, an inquiry headed by a former chief inspector of schools said yesterday.

Research commissioned by the Book Trust, a charity which promotes reading, revealed that while secondary schools were slightly better off they still spent less than half what they needed.

A separate report from the Educational Publishers Council has revealed that one primary school in five had less than pounds 5 per year to spend on books for each pupil.

A committee of inquiry headed by Professor Eric Bolton, who was chief inspector from 1983 to 1991, concluded that primary schools needed to spend pounds 45 and secondary schools pounds 56 per pupil per year. In fact, primary schools spent just pounds 14.21 and secondaries were spending pounds 27.54, it said.

The study of a representative sample of 12 primary schools and 15 secondary schools throughout England showed a huge variation in the amount being spent. An independent secondary school spent pounds 91 per year while a local authority school had just pounds 21.30 and a grant-maintained school had pounds 50.

Its report says school under-funding is becoming more serious by the year, forcing head teachers and governors into giving a low priority to spending on books.

Schools must now find money for computers as well as for books, and the introduction of the national curriculum has increased the need for new resources. Subjects such as religious education and art must now be taught using text books.

The cost of books accounts for just 2 per cent of all school spending, the report says, and the Government should tackle the issue by allowing schools to bid for book grants.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said his union had been warning since the early 1990s that spending on books was too low.

"The Government is aware of this inadequacy which is why it constantly seeks to divert parents' attention by unjustly criticising teachers," he said.