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To make sure sticking and pasting is not a waste of time, your glue must be up to the mark. Gerald Haigh and a panel test some of the market leaders.

The chief inspector of schools, Chris Wood-head, thinks there is too much of it. In July, he told the Institute of Directors of "the sheer waste of time, the excess of colouring, sticking and pasting". However, these activities - as he would undoubtedly concede - are appropriate in the right context. For example, Tracey Metcalf, art co-ordinator at St Giles Middle School, Warwickshire, used a worksheet where pupils cut out and rearranged the life cycle of a buttercup in the right order. (Science key stage 2: life processes and living things, green plants and organisms.) The point is, Tracey said, that "the language and the science make up the activity, not the cutting and pasting." If there is to be no wasted time, though, the materials have to be up to the mark.

Paula Billings, a reception teacher at St Francis RC School, Warwickshire, laughed as she recalled the one-time frustrations of working with stiff, rusty scissors and a pot of watery paste. "Cutting and sticking?" she said. "Nothing would cut; nothing would stick."

Now, there is more choice, and manufacturers are selling classroom adhesives in small quantities in spill and splurge-proof dispensers - either there are little nozzles, or rollerballs, or the adhesive is solid. Bulk buying is cheaper. The catch is that you have to decant and dispense it and this takes time and good organisation. Paula Billings puts it into small pots, and gives out plastic spatulas. Tracey Metcalf has tried doling it out on to paper towels on each desk.

Sticking and holding is not usually the problem - all classroom glues and pastes will stick paper and card together. The biggest difficulty with cheap versions is that they can wrinkle the paper. More expensive products claim to avoid this, but the experience of the panel was that any glue, over-used, will cause some wrinkling. What is needed, therefore, is a dispensing method that encourages sparing use.

The TES asked Tracey Metcalf, Paula Billings and Cilla Dodds, a classroom assistant at St Francis RC School, Warwickshire, to look at a range of glues, pastes and gums. (Prices vary across educational catalogues. Those quoted here are approximate.) Solid glue sticks A stick of glue, pushed up like a lipstick from inside a cylindrical container, is usually available in two or three sizes. A 40 gram stick (about 10cm long) is the most popular in schools.

Each of the products we saw is clean, efficient and easy to use. A sparse dab of any of them would stick two sheets of paper together. Used like this, a stick would last a long time - though children always use far too much.

The panel favoured PrittSticks, which cost from 34p for 10g to Pounds 1.69 for "Jumbo" 96g. They are well made with smooth-running "twist-ups". Paula Billings summed up: "Efficient, but expensive." None of them had seen the Jumbo stick before. "A bit unwieldy for little fingers," said Cilla Dodds. "But handy for an adult mounting pictures," added Paula Billings. Unlike the other PrittSticks, the Jumbo has a screw top. As you take it off, a vacuum effect pulls the glue stick up.

Another high quality, white glue stick is UHU Stic, which costs about 77p for 40g. The panel saw no obvious difference in efficiency. It has a screw top and you twist the bottom to push the glue up. Our UHU Stic sample was stiff to turn. "A small child just wouldn't manage it," Paula Billings said.

The "twist-up" on the Arnold Glue Stick, costing 64p, is not as smooth as Pritt's, but is manageable for children. It is cheaper - and looks it. However, it works and sticks well. Similar own-label products are available from other suppliers, including local authorities.

The NES Arnold Alostick (40g, Pounds 1.30) and UHU Magic Stick (21g, 66p) are different. The glue is purple, but dries clear. This helps the child and the teacher to see where the glue is being put down. It ought, therefore, to be more economical. The UHU product is more densely coloured and the panel thought it did its job better.

The best buy in classroom glue sticks is the UHU Magic Stic. The best white glue stick is likely to be an "own brand", such as NES Arnold, or the equivalent from a local authority supplier. This will give you acceptable quality at a competitive price. But if you want a good choice of sizes, and a feeling of quality, the Pritt range is excellent.

Liquid glues These are messier, and more likely to wrinkle the paper. Packing a liquid glue in a small dispenser is a challenge, and one that, in the opinion of the panel, nobody has fully conquered.

Gloy Original Gum, and starch-based paste, are each in a 100ml "tottle" and cost 50p. But the panel found that "too much comes out". Tracey Metcalf said: "You'd have to supervise very carefully." All believed that because of this, there was no advantage over buying in bulk.

Arnold's Instant Paper Glue, a transparent gum in a 40g container costing Pounds 1.55, has a push-on top, and a flat plastic spreader by the nozzle. Because it said "absolutely no wrinkles" on the container, the team tried to make some. But they only succeeded after grossly over-generous application.

UHU Kid (95ml, 75p), the firm's publicity explains, is a PVA glue, although the label does not say so. Arguably it should because PVA has other craft uses. It is also more difficult than ordinary paste or gum to remove from clothes, although Kid is one of a family of "junior" PVA products that are intended to be more washable.

Pritt Childsplay (50ml tube, 69p) is also a "junior" PVA - white, efficient at sticking, reasonably washable. The panel felt, though, that the dispenser was not as good as the UHU product.

Pritt Childsplay individual 125ml pot, with a brush built into the lid, costs 74p. The brush emerged overloaded with paste, and the potential for mess was obvious. "No advantage over buying in bulk," was how Paula Billings put it.

The panel thought the UHU Pen (50ml tube of gum with a nylon applicator tip, 69p) worked well. "Not too much comes out, and you can put it where you want it," said Paula Billings.

Pentel Roll 'n' Glue (55ml bottle of transparent gum with a roller applicator, 75p) was another way of solving the problem.

The best buy in liquid glue in small dispensers was the UHU Glue Pen. For bulk, it was the "budget" PVA in five-litre containers from Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation and NES Arnold, costing Pounds 4.95.

Liquid paste in bulk The most economical buy for ordinary paste is powder to mix your own. This can give you five litres of paste for 35p (ESPO Cellulose Adhesive; Scolacell from Central Supplies Organisation). You will, though, pay for this in teacher or classroom assistant time, and in waste if anyone is careless. (Do not buy ordinary wallpaper paste from a DIY shop. It often contains a fungicide, and ought not to be used as a classroom paste.) Some teachers want a high quality PVA such as Berol's Marvin Medium, at Pounds 10 for five litres. Because this dries to a tough transparent flexible "skin", it has a wide range of craft applications. It will, for example, allow you to "encapsulate" leaves and flowers in a tough transparent layer. But the primary art teacher who recommended Marvin to me said: "You have to guard it and make sure it is not used for ordinary gluing jobs where something cheaper would do." Marvin, unlike "junior" or "washable" PVA products cannot be removed from clothes once it is dry.

Leaving the tops off I tested several by leaving them over the weekend. All were affected, and some became useless. For example, the rollerball in Roll 'n' Glue seized up. It is important to make sure lids are not lost or left off.

Washing The only primary school adhesive that gives washing problems is PVA. Once it has dried, removal ranges from difficult to impossible.

Prices Shop around. For example, a 40g PrittStick will cost you Pounds 2.85 in a shop, Pounds 1.60, from NES Arnold, 94p from CSO and 79p from ESPO. Such differences are common. You also need to watch for special promotions, free delivery, and extra discounts for large orders.

Given the variables involved, it is not easy to see how you could pin down real costs other than by using products for at least a year, rotating them around classes.

A solvent speeds up drying, but is open to abuse. All suppliers are aware that any adhesive sold to a primary school needs to be labelled as solvent-free, non-toxic and, preferably, cold or warm water washable. It is important to remember that glues bought in shops may not be any of these.

Prices are from three sourcesu A typical commercial catalogue: NES Arnold, Ludlow Hill Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 6HD. Tel: 0115 945 2200 u A consortium of local authorities: Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation, Leicester Road, Glenfield, Leicester LE3 8RT. Tel: 0116 265 7878u A local authority group: CSO (Central Supplies Organisation - Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull), City Supplies, Coventry City Council, Earl Street, Coventry CV1 5RQ. Tel: 01203 833761.

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