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More spent on tests than on textbooks

Nicholas Pyke reports on the Liberal Democrats' searing attack on a 'high-cost, low-value system of obsolete information'

Three times as much is spent on tests for seven-year-olds as on books to help them learn the basics, according to Don Foster, the Lib Dems education spokesman.

The key stage 1 tests in English and maths are "a high-cost, low-value system of obsolete information," said Mr Foster, speaking at last week's Association for Science Education conference in Liverpool.

Last year's tests for seven-year-olds cost pound;pound;36 per pupil. Only pound;12.81 per child was spent on books.

"The book figures really are very worrying," said John Davies, director of the Educational Publishers Council. Last month, a survey by the council showed that overall spending on school books is falling.

The Government has allocated pound;19 million to support primary-school literacy. This amounts to about pound;4 to pound;5 a child.

"This should improve the situation," said Mr Davies. "But it won't bring it any where near the required levels suggested by the Book Trust."

Last year the Book Trust recommended that schools spend pound;45 per child per year on primary-school books.

Mr Foster, who was presenting the TESPfizer Science Teacher of the Year award, said the national curriculum was overloaded and overprescriptive. He also called for a shift in spending from secondary schools to the primary and nursery sectors.

"We should be spending some of our existing money on providing support for the parents of one to three-year-olds," he said. "Maybe we should have our own key stage for the early years. We're going to have to consider reallocating secondary-school resources to some of the primary schools."

* The Government should delay its plans for a teacher-training national curriculum so that science teachers have time to debate the content, says the Association for Science Education.

Dr Mary Ratcliffe, immediate past president of the ASE, said that proposals drawn up by Government advisers appear to be simplistic.

"It's nothing like as straightforward as the Teacher Training Agency's plans suggest," she said. "They assume that there's a straightforward relationship between understanding and your ability to teach.

"There's a very interesting and important debate to be had. But I don't think it's taking place."

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