The latest official figures on class size and schools' spending show once again that, though primary schools are being protected from cuts compared with secondaries, they are not using their extra income to reduce class sizes. There is little evidence to suggest, therefore, that given extra money primaries would necessarily choose - or may not be able - to spend it on smaller classes in line with Government policy.
Figures in the latest Department for Education and Employment annual report show that since local management of schools began in 1989-90 spending on primary pupils increased by Pounds 484 per pupil to Pounds 1,694 in 1995-96. That represents an increase of 40 per cent in cash or 9 per cent after inflation is taken into account.
Average secondary school funding per pupil has increased by Pounds 418 (22 per cent) to Pounds 2,270 since schools became responsible for their own budgets. This was equivalent to a cut of nearly 5 per cent in real terms. So for every Pounds 100 spent per primary and secondary pupil in 1989-90, Pounds 109 per child was spent in primary schools in 1995-96 but only Pounds 95 in secondary.
More than two-thirds of all school spending went on teaching staff. Spending per child on teachers increased in real terms in the early years of local management but then fell again. After inflation is taken into account, schools are spending 8 per cent less on teaching per child than they were four years ago, taking them back to levels of spending on teachers when local management started.
After falling for at least 10 years previously, class sizes have risen steadily in both primary and secondary since 1989, so spending on teaching in real terms might have been expected to drop even further over that period. The fact that it has not is probably due to two factors: teachers' pay has risen faster than inflation; and teachers in primary schools are spending less time in front of their class. Surveys for the teachers' pay review body confirm that non-contact time is growing in primaries but that secondary teachers are getting fewer free periods.
Teachers, meanwhile, have had more support from non-teaching staff to cope with larger classes - especially in primary schools. Spending on support staff has doubled in cash terms since local management began and now runs at Pounds 175 a pupil - an increase after inflation is allowed for of more than 50 per cent.
This could be evidence that schools are choosing to spend more on in-class support rather than on smaller classes. The additional spent on support staff for a class of 30, on average, could be sufficient to reduce that class to 28.
But it may be that choice does not always enter into it. Schools may be forced into large classes because of the numbers of children they are required to accept and the numbers of rooms available to accommodate them. Additional support staff and non-contact time may be a way of ameliorating large classes rather than the way schools would ideally like to spend their money.
DFEE figures show that most of the growth in non-teaching staff is in education support staff which include classroom and child care assistants, medical staff, librarians and technicians. In 1995 there were more than twice as many (46,324 full-time equivalent) in primary schools as in secondary (21,463). The numbers grew in primary by 43 per cent between 1992 and 1995, and in secondary by 26 per cent.
The numbers of administrative and clerical staff have also grown more rapidly in primary schools than secondary over this period. In primary they increased by 21 per cent to 18,052 from 1992 to 1995 compared with the 17 per cent growth to 16,548 in secondary.
The Government is planning to introduce a programme of courses and qualifications for all teaching assistants, Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the DFEE, announced two weeks ago.
Expenditure on books and equipment for each child has also apparently risen. After allowing for inflation, however, the DFEE figures indicate spending on these items in real terms is back more or less at the 1989-90 level.
Maintenance and repairs have been reduced significantly since schools took over responsibility for them. Schools spent 22 per cent less per child in real terms on repairs in 1995-96 than they did in 1989-90, though some repairs costs may have been transferred to the support staff heading if caretaking staff are employed on routine maintenance work.