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Primary costs rise steadily

Small or opted-out schools cost more, new figures show. Neil Munro reports.

The cost of educating the average primary pupil has risen by almost 7 per cent to Pounds 1,767 over the past three years, while the average secondary pupil costs almost 4 per cent more - Pounds 2,760 more than in 1994-95.

The annual table of Scottish school costs shows that the bill for the 2,333 local authority and Scottish Office-funded primaries stands at Pounds 778,450,000 and is Pounds 874,734,000 for the 406 secondaries.

Although the statistics are even more complicated than the other performance tables, the Education Minister defends them saying that taxpayers are entitled to know "how much schools cost and to make comparisons on a local and national basis".

However, Raymond Robertson admitted that comparisons between authorities are particularly difficult this year because school budgets were set by the outgoing councils in most areas.

The figures do not always compare like with like because of the differences in allocated devolved budgets. Fife, for example, does not include learning support and visiting teacher costs in its budget statements to school boards. And capital spending and central council expenditure on such things as advisory and psychological services are excluded from school running costs in most places.

The figures also fail to reflect aspects of a school which can have a significant impact on costs, such as the age of the building, how much cash has been allocated to compensate for deprivation, the number of adult returners not included in the rolls and the costs of educating children in sparsely-populated areas.

There are also a host of special factors which affect costs. The report shows schools whose circumstances changed between 1994-97.

Small fluctuations in rolls can also have a dramatic effect, as Corgarff primary in Aberdeenshire discovered. Its numbers fell from seven to five pupils and its costs increased by Pounds 3,000 per pupil.

The tables underline the obvious fact that small schools and isolated locations are more costly. Shetland's 35 primaries, 29 of which have rolls of fewer than 100 pupils, are the most expensive at Pounds 3,126 per pupil. East Renfrewshire's primaries are the cheapest at Pounds 1,423; all of its 23 primaries bar one have more than 100 pupils.

At Pounds 4,550 per pupil Shetland also runs the most expensive secondaries, ranging in size from 2 to 883; but they have a mixed economy of nine four and six-year schools. East Lothian has the most cost-effective secondaries with a price-tag of Pounds 2,345 per pupil. Its six secondaries are all six-year comprehensives and have a compact range of 546 to 990 pupils.

The cost range for primaries is from Pounds 11,967 for each of the six pupils at Papa Westray to Pounds 1,171 for the 287 pupils at Sir John Maxwell in Glasgow.

The secondary figures reflect the same pattern with the most expensive being North Walls Junior High in Orkney, where each of the 10 first and second year pupils costs Pounds 13,175 to educate; but the most expensive six-year mainland secondary at Pounds 4,855 per pupil is Castlebrae Community High in Edinburgh's deprived Craigmillar area.

The least costly secondary, at Pounds 2,146 for each of its 1270 pupils, is Williamwood High in East Renfrewshire.

There are, however, a number of schools which do not follow the expected pattern. Wallace High in Stirling, for example, is the authority's largest secondary but also its most expensive. It, however, is one of those listed as having undergone a change of circumstances, that is the establishment of a special needs unit within the school.

There are also widely fluctuating costs of providing education especially in the primary sector. Gateside in Fife, Glentrool in Dumfries and Galloway and Foulden in the Borders have roughly the same number of pupils (11, 10 and 11) and are all rural schools yet their respective costs are Pounds 6,383, Pounds 5,183 and Pounds 4,506.

The figures show, to the Government's embarrassment, that opted out schools are hugely expensive. Dornoch Academy's roll has declined steadily from 79 in 1993 to 49 at the time of the last published census figures taken in September 1995, pushing the cost per pupil from Pounds 5,053 to Pounds 8,245 over the past three years. This compares with a Highland Council average for secondary schools which increased from Pounds 2,931 to Pounds 3,008 during the same period.

St Mary's Episcopal Primary in Dunblane has also seen its roll decline from 56 to 44, leaving it with a cost per pupil of Pounds 2,623 against a Stirling Council primary average of Pounds 1,663. The figures for the primary and secondary departments of Jordanhill School, which is funded directly by the Scottish Office, show a similar lead over the averages for Glasgow city schools.

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