The survey of 2,300 United Kingdom schools shows that well-funded prep schools spend up to Pounds 80 per pupil each year on books, while some English state primaries feel obliged to keep their spending below Pounds 3 and therefore cannot afford to buy a new book for each of their pupils.
But, equally surprisingly, the research also reveals that state schools in Northern Ireland are spending twice as much on books on average as the English, Welsh and Scots, and are even outspending the independent and grant-maintained sectors.
The survey, which was commissioned by the Educational Publishers' Council, found that nearly one in four LEA primary schools spent less than Pounds 5 a head on books and other printed materials during 1994-95.
One in seven secondary schools admitted allocating less than Pounds 10 per pupil for books during the year. English and Welsh primaries spent Pounds 13.33 on average, while secondaries managed to find Pounds 23.02. The Scots spent virtually the same (Pounds 13.61 and Pounds 21.57), while the independent and GM sectors - grouped together for the purposes of this survey - averaged Pounds 24.22 for primaries, and Pounds 37.77 for secondaries.
The bookish Northern Irish, however, topped even these figures, with Pounds 28.37 and Pounds 46.68.
The survey, last carried out two years ago, suggests that introducing the national curriculum has had little effect on book-buying patterns. Most money is invested in English, maths and library books, but there is some evidence that independent schools spend proportionately more on science books.
The survey authors say it seems extraordinary, given the price of books, that 14 per cent of secondary schools should admit to spending less than Pounds 10 per head on printed resources.