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Great divide between the confident and the wary

Paul Fisher reports the results of the Educational Publishers' Council survey of textbooks in schools

LONDON. Here is a tale of two London primary schools which have precious little in common other than being within 10 miles of each other and of having responded to the Educational Publishers' Council book survey.

The Hall School in Hampstead emerged as one of the highest- spending primary schools in Britain with an annual expenditure of Pounds 80 per pupil per book. (That's nearly Pounds 30,000 when a few CD-Roms are thrown in). The other school is one of those that spends less than Pounds 3 a year on books for each of its pupils.

Over in Ealing the headteacher is so paranoid or ashamed that she doesn't want her school named. She's worried about upsetting her governors and the local education authority which is nothing like the reaction at The Hall School where the staff sound confident and friendly.

The new head, Paul Ramage, is a book enthusiast who feels his appointment might have inflated last year's budget.

He mentions buying a new maths scheme plus a range of textbooks to support the Independent Schools Exam, the revamped Common Entrance test.

Carl Gilbey-McKenzie is the head of English who runs the senior library for the nine to 13-year-olds.

He explains how the library is open from 8am to 5.30pm; how the older boys act as librarians and how they've been computerising a collection of 6,700 books.

It seems as up to date as Waterstones. They've got nearly everything Dorling Kindersley has published, even the latest Pounds 49 title.

Naturally, several of the boys had their own personal copy ahead of the school library and Mr Gilbey-McKenzie reckons many of the parents spend over Pounds 80 a year on children's books which are for home consumption only.

"Our capitation has been frozen for four years," says the shy head of Ealing.

"We've had to revamp many areas of the curriculum and though we need new reading and maths schemes, we can't afford them. Our annual budget for all consumables is Pounds 12,500, which is Pounds 33 a pupil.

"It hardly runs to any books at all, we're not providing bi-lingual books and, no, we've bought nothing for the library. Perhaps I'll buy a duster for the empty shelves."

There are other differences between the two schools: while the haves' brochure promises classes of no more than 18 to 20 boys, the have-nots recently increased average class sizes from 28 to 32; half the have-nots are poor enough to qualify for free school meals, a privilege denied to the Hall School pupils whose parents pay Pounds 1,890 per term for their schooling.

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