Ministers' apple fails to hit the physics bench

13th February 2004 at 00:00
The extra millions that should have been ploughed into science over the past three years are failing to reach many physics departments desperately in need of modern equipment.

Principal teachers claim that funds have been siphoned off by local authorities and headteachers and many actually report cuts in their budgets, according to a survey carried out by Stuart Farmer, chair-elect of the Association for Science Education.

Mr Farmer, an Aberdeen teacher, bases his remarkable findings on returns from 68 secondaries. One in seven alleges that the headteacher has diverted the cash. Only half the schools thought that their authority had passed on all funds appropriately.

Despite the Scottish Executive setting aside more than pound;15 million for science over the past three years - with pound;3 million more to come - departments report that their budgets have shrunk by an average 12 per cent in real terms. "When only state schools were considered, the decline was an average of 15 per cent in real terms," Mr Farmer says.

He claims there is "no measurable impact" from the new cash because heads and authorities have been taking with one hand and removing with another.

His study finds that departmental budgets cover only photocopying, basic consumables and breakages with limited funds for textbooks and "effectively none for a phased updating of equipment". Much equipment is more than 20 years old and may be dangerous.

Extra cash has often gone on computers. Mr Farmer says that departments need thousands to cover the costs of powerpacks and signal generators. "We have to use very old pieces of equipment which are not reliable and do not give a good impression to young people," he says.

Meanwhile, the gap between independent and state sectors is widening. "The budget per pupil hour was 96 per cent more in the independent sector," he states.

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