Cautious about conclusions

3rd November 1995 at 00:00
In Scotland, the survey sample is biased towards smaller schools, "which will distort the returns for total spending but should not affect figures per head spent", according to the Educational Publishers' Council report.

And the Scottish secondary return "is small both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total number of schools, so these figures should be treated with caution".

Roger Watson, one of the consultants who prepared the report, has nevertheless extracted two Scottish secondaries which illustrate the apparent gap in spending: Lochaber High in Fort William, has spent only Pounds 5 to Pounds 7.50 per pupil on books and printed resources, while Campbeltown Grammar in Argyll spent between Pounds 70 and Pounds 80.

According to Paul Brian, headteacher of Lochaber High: "Our per capita allocation for the purchase of educational equipment is Pounds 50 per pupil and this compares favourably with other schools in Scotland. Our accounting system allows us to identify precisely how much of this is spent on textbooks, and this comes to approximately Pounds 7 a pupil. We would be surprised if this was much lower than other schools in Scotland because we discuss such matters with colleagues in other places.

"We suspect that some schools have simply provided their overall figure for supplies and this has led to a misunderstanding." Lochaber, he said, spends a lot on photocopying.

The educational publishers have been carrying out these surveys for many years, and usually find that schools spend far too little on books - less, as one survey showed, than on cabbage. This is not all that startling given the relative shelf lives of the two commodities, but it makes for good propaganda.

In the days when Sutherland was an education authority, the county came out of the survey glowing as one of the exemplary big spenders - thanks to a cow. Sutherland ran a junior secondary school which had an associated farm, for vocational purposes. The cow they bought did not fit easily into the expenditure heads on offer, so it was put down under "books" on the grounds that it was calf-bound.

The figure produced by the survey is indeed Campbeltown Grammar School's entire supplies budget. On textbooks, the school spent just under Pounds 6,000, something over Pounds 10 per pupil. Other printed materials accounted for at most Pounds 1,500, says headteacher Bill Crossan. And for every Pounds 10 spent on books, the school spends about Pounds 20 on photocopying.

In 1994-95 Campbeltown Grammar re-equipped its French department with a whole new course and the maths department with material for the first and second years. It also bought textbooks for Standard grade computing and for the new Higher grade in management and information studies. The resources budget is divided between base requirements and development requirements - the first for what is needed to deliver existing courses, the second for new courses.

The development spending, says headteacher Jim Crossan, may have skewed the return: "It is not my impression that we are spending ten times as much as anyone else on textbooks," he adds. "We are not paragons."

1994-95 was the first year in which Campbeltown Grammar had devolved school management - a system that will include all schools in Scotland by April, 1996. Without devolved school management, says Mr Crossan, the change to the French course probably would not have been feasible.

Something like two-thirds of the textbook budget went to development requirements, most of that on maths and modern languages. The total supplies budget was around Pounds 50,000, including Pounds 10,000 "virement" money taken from other spending heads.

Local management of schools is much less developed in Scotland than in the South, and the Campbeltown experience suggests that this fact could account for Scotland's poor showing in the survey.

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