Secondary schools get an "unfair slice" of the national education budget, the chief inspector of schools has admitted.
Chris Woodhead was careful to find out the composition of his audience at the ASE, however, before confessing that the Office for Standards in Education needed to investigate the current distribution of resources.
He first asked how many of the teachers present were from secondaries. Having discovered that the vast majority were from primaries, he said: "Secondary schools get an unfair slice of the cake . . . There are all sorts of very tricky issues about educational funding. We are looking into this and no doubt I will get into even more hot water."
His audience had listened in silence to Mr Woodhead's 40-minute speech on primary science, but widespread mutterings were audible as soon as he said "unfair slice of the cake".
His comments came in response to James Williams, head of science at The Beacon grant-maintained secondary school in Banstead, Surrey. Mr Williams, an ASE council member, said primary teachers had little time to plan science teaching because, unlike secondary teachers, they had no non-teaching time during the day.
Anne Watkinson, chairman of the ASE's primary committee, said: "There are no short-term solutions to the funding problem, and Chris Woodhead knows that. I think the secondary schools would create mayhem if money was taken away from them. New money is the best."
Mr Woodhead had earlier said he wanted to improve the science subject knowledge of teachers and help them to improve their teaching. The ASE hopes to work with OFSTED to improve the science knowledge of primary inspectors.
The chief inspector also wants to see more semi-specialist and specialist teaching in primary schools; the enhancement of the role of science coordinators as curriculum managers; better understanding of what characterises pupils' progress in science; greater recognition of the importance of teacher intervention in learning, both in whole-class teaching and during investigative work; and longer term resource planning to allow topics to be taught most effectively.
He said: "Our evidence is that the science component of the curriculum commonly remains buried in topics . . . topics are often planned to ensure that there is adequate coverage of the national curriculum requirements, but insufficient attention is paid to enabling pupils to develop progressively their scientific knowledge and skills.
"The arrangement of the topic cycle within the school can, moreover, sometimes mean that pupils' study of science is spasmodic, or the cycle can operate so that pupils meet ideas in a sequence that is not matched to their conceptual ability."