The cost of secondary education is one of the main reasons why council spending is higher in Scotland, according to a comparative study commissioned from management consultants by the Scottish Office at a cost of Pounds 235,000.
Coopers Lybrand and Pieda, in a largely unreported section of the 200-page report, acknowledge that levels are boosted because more pupils are educated in local authority schools than south of the border and more stay on at school.
But English and Welsh authorities also have to bear costs of some further education, school inspection and student awards which are funded by central government in Scotland. The spending gap in Scotland's favour may therefore be even greater, the study suggests.
The consultants' report also rejects the argument advanced by councils that they have to spend more to combat greater deprivation and sparsity of population. These conclusions were seized upon by Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State, as part of his continuing battles with council leaders over spending levels. "This confirms what the Government have always said," Mr Forsyth commented.
Keith Geddes, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said the exercise did not take the issues forward. "It tells us that there are higher levels of spending in Scotland, something we have never disputed. But all spending is within limits set by the Secretary of State."
Mr Forsyth gave notice he would expect a more clear-cut analysis in the next stage of the study, which will examine "links between spending, efficiency and outputs". But he underlined the importance the consultants attached to policy decisions by councils as a factor in higher levels of expenditure.
The study found that in 1994-95 Scottish councils spent Pounds 80.30 per head more on education than English councils and Pounds 38.30 more than in Wales, a difference of 23.1 per cent and 9.8 per cent respectively.
The report acknowledges that more English pupils are educated outside the council sector in opted-out and independent schools. More Scottish pupils are also educated in the expensive upper years of secondary while many English pupils go to sixth-form and FE colleges funded by central government.
These factors dramatically alter the picture, leading to educational expenditure which was only Pounds 29 a head or 8.7 per cent above the English level in 1994-95. More than half this figure is due to the greater costs of secondary schools.
The most telling difference, however, is that lower class sizes in Scotland and better pupil:teacher ratios account for increased costs of secondary education, which is Pounds 59 per capita greater than in England and Pounds 26 higher than in Wales. Even the lowest cost authority, Fife, has a cost per secondary pupil 17 per cent above the English average.
By contrast spending in primary and nursery education is only Pounds 22 per head more than in England and Pounds 4 more than in Wales.
Coopers Lybrand and Pieda estimate that reducing secondary pupil:teacher ratios to English levels would have cut direct teaching costs in 1994-95 from Pounds 651 million to Pounds 516 million. This implies that 99 per cent of the difference between Scottish and English teaching costs in secondary schools is caused by higher staffing levels.
Cosla claims this is good value for money because Scottish teachers are better qualified, children's attainment is higher on average and parental satisfaction with schools greater than in England.
But the study also highlights significantly greater secondary school property costs in Scotland: Pounds 417 per pupil compared with Pounds 253 in England and Pounds 254 in Wales. The Scottish figure ranged in 1994-95 from Pounds 936 in Tayside to Pounds 343 in Grampian. The consultants are not able to say whether property costs are high because underoccupied schools have not been closed "since we have data only on the size of school population and not the design capacity of the schools".
Detailed scrutiny of the figures reveals that, secondary school discrepancies notwithstanding, overall council expenditure on education is also higher than for every one of the eight English "planning regions": Pounds 427.46 per head in 1994-95 against Pounds 385.15 in the north west of England, the most expensive of the English regions.
The consultants reject the suggestion that high-cost island areas distort the Scottish picture since they are too small to affect the average figures. The report comments: "What is most striking about these results is that Scottish spending is above the English figure for every type of authority and for every geographical area of England and Wales except inner London.
"Education spending is higher in Scottish authorities than in predominantly urban or rural areas of England; it is higher than in English regions which have lower income levels and higher unemployment levels than in Scotland. "