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Desks and texts lose out to computers

Schools are trying to meet Government targets on literacy and numeracy with ever-decreasing amounts of money being spent on books and equipment, according to a new study.

Spending on furniture and textbooks is down in primary and secondary schools, as they scrimp and save to balance below-inflation budget rises, writes Dorothy Lepkowska.

However, figures from the British Educational Suppliers Association show that a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on computers and new technology - 18 per cent of the total expenditure on teaching and administrative materials.

The report, launched at the Education Show, warned that the drive to get technology into schools has financial implications which are becoming increasingly difficult to manage within budgets that have increased little over recent years.

It added that the effect "may be limited growth for other products including furniture and books".

This is despite extra cash such as the Chancellor's pound;1 billion or the pound;1,000 primary schools have to spend on reading books.

BESA figures show that on average primary schools have pound;15,241 a year to spend on teaching materials and secondaries pound;94,690.

Expenditure on furniture is set to increase by pound;70,000 between 1997-99, a below inflation increase of 1 per cent. Meanwhile spending on teaching materials is likely to grow at only 1.2 per cent in primary schools and 1.9 per cent in secondary schools. Of the pound;263m spend in total about pound;150m will go on books.

Dominic Savage, chief executive of BESA, said: "It is quite clear that resource budgets have not kept pace with inflation and the increasing pupil population.

"This is not a helpful situation when the emphasis is on literacy and numeracy and there is an expectation of raising standards.

"If something is not done we will see a substantially worse situation developing."

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* Royal Mail is to sponsor the top children's book awards, the Library Association's Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. The award ceremony in July will coincide with the issue of five stamps honouring great children's writers. This year's shortlist will be announced on May 1.

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