Britain already buys fewer school books than any other country in western Europe.
Now a survey from the Publishers Association is set to reveal a further 3 per cent fall in spending for older pupils over the past two years - despite the fact that, on average, every school in England and Wales has received pound;3,000 of book money from the Government since last autumn.
In contrast, book spending for primary pupils has shown an enormous 54 per cent rise, according to an analysis of the results. Almost all this extra money went on books to promote literacy - the purpose of the government grants.
Ministers claim to have pumped pound;73 million of new book money into the system since September 98, the start of the Year of Reading. But such is the pressure on secondary school budgets that much of this appears to have been spent on other things.
The figures may have been depressed by the particularly large budget cuts suffered in grant-maintained schools. Council-run secondary schools showed an 8 per cent increase in book buying, while the private and grant-maintained sectors registered a joint 15 per cent fall.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"Schools are being pinched by reduced budgets in many areas. There is also a general drift of funding from secondary to the primary sector."
John Davies, director of the Educational Publishers Council, was concerned by the figures.
"It's been a very good start by the Government in terms of primary schools. But the situation in secondary schools needs to be looked at urgently. Books will be needed for citizenship and for the new post-16 qualifications."
When calculated as spending per pupil, the picture is slightly more positive. Secondary schools in England and Wales show a marginal 2 per cent rise while the primary sector has seen a 76 per cent rise in spending per head.
Primary budgets work out at pound;22.48 per pupil each year. Secondary pupils get books worth pound;25.03. The full analysis, carried out by Statistics for Education, will be published shortly.