A strongly-worded report from the Commons education select committee shows that between 40 and 50 per cent more is spent on each secondary pupil than on each primary one. The committee attacked the disparity, which goes back to the 19th century when one teacher was expected to teach 50 children for all subjects.
Secondary schools are staffed by specialists and so employ more teachers, particularly in sixth forms where classes are small. But the report says that the introduction of the nine-subject national curriculum and higher expectations in primary schools 'invalidate the assumption that primary schools can be expected to function with a significantly lower level of staff . . .'
The MPs suggest larger teaching groups in the sixth form, including combining classes from different schools, to free more money for primary schools.
Class sizes in both primary and secondary schools have risen in the 1980s, the report notes. It challenges the view of ministers that there is no connection between achievement and class size: 'The lack of objective proof of a correlation between pupils' achievement and smaller class sizes does not mean that there is no such correlation.'
The committee says: 'We do not believe that secondary schools are too well-off, but primary schools are, by comparison, worse-off . . . if any phase of school education is funded at a disproportionately low level, children of all ages will suffer and, in the long run, the nation as a whole suffers.'
Any extra money for education should go to primary schools, the report says. The Government should . . . shift funds towards primary schools during the next 10 years. The money should be used to give each primary school teacher responsibility for overseeing one subject, or groups of subjects, throughout the school.
Ministers and secondary heads argue that primary teachers do not need as much non-contact time in school as secondary teachers because their teaching week is shorter.
The committee argues that all the administrative work now required of primary teachers cannot be done in the 'extra' time that secondary teachers believe is available for primary teachers.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said that the report would be considered carefully.
David Hart, general secretary, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'It is time the Government stopped sitting on the fence and promised to implement each and every relevant recommendation.'
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the report. 'For too long, only lip service has been paid to the crucial role of primary education in laying the foundations of a child's future development,' he said.
Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, backed the demand for a review. Labour had pointed out that 'larger class sizes in primary schools prevent children getting the best start in life'.