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Literacy drive costs primary staff pound;5m

Union survey finds teachers fund Labour's initiative, Frances Rafferty reports

PRIMARY schoolteachers are spending pound;5 million from their own pockets to help to implement the Government's literacy drive, a survey has found.

The survey, commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, discovered primary teachers have spent on average pound;25.80 to buy books and other resources for the National Literacy Strategy, which includes the literacy hour, since it began last September.

More than half those surveyed have contributed to some extent and one in five has spent more than pound;50 on materials since the scheme's inception.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, said this was like expecting fire-fighters to provide their own hoses and surgeons their own swabs. He said: "Conscientious teachers felt they had no option but to prop up a key Government policy by topping up the inadequate funding. The figures underline once and for all the intense personal commitment of teachers to get the best out of their pupils.

"The Government is proposing to modernise the teaching profession. A good first step would be for Government and local authorities to cover the cost of such key initiatives in full.

"The ATL findings are all the more disturbing as they come hard on the heels of recent news that parents themselves are being asked to pay more than ever to make up the Government's shortfall."

The findings are part of a larger survey investigating teachers' reactions to the literacy strategy. The full results, to be released later this month, are expected to reveal mixed feelings among the profession. Three-quarters of those surveyed said the materials available to implement the policy are "barely adequate".

A union spokesman said: "There are devoted fans of the strategy and severe critics."

Parents are also having to make up the Government's shortfall in funding, said the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations. Spokeswoman Margaret Morrissey said: "Most parents think the literacy strategy is brilliant. They are really impressed and some say it has made an incredible difference.

"But the funding to go with the initiative is not enough. Parents are having to top up the book provision and supply the extra shelving, racks and trolleys in libraries."

She said that even in small schools, parents are contributing up to pound;3,000 towards implementing the policy. It means that poorer parents are struggling to make their contribution.

"It doesn't seem right to me that heads have to be grateful for parental contribution to state education," she said.

A Government spokesman said: "(We) are backing up the National Literacy Strategy with a huge investment of resources. We have allocated pound;59m for the strategy in 1998-99 and pound;54m in 1999-2000. In addition, we have twice this year allocated pound;1,000 per school, specifically for spending on books."

The ATL survey was carried out last month by Opinion Research Business, based on interviews with 340 primary teachers carrying out the literacy strategy in England.

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