Publishers' school budgets under threat

Publishers' school budgets under threat

Almost three quarters of primary head teachers are expecting funding for books to be inadequate in 2011–12, as the Publishers Association has warned of a “challenging year” for book sales to schools.

As schools begin to receive their budgets, results from the Learning Resource Review conducted among school leaders by the PA suggest 70% of Key Stage Two primary head teachers expect their funding for learning resources to be “inadequate” in 2011–2012, compared with 56% last year.

Secondary school leaders are also concerned about the amount of cash they will have to spend on resources, with 56% expecting their budget to be insufficient to buy what they need, up from 50% in 2010.

The results, compiled after the government’s spending review in November, also reveal that half of secondary school leaders worry they would not be able to maintain the same level of investment in learning resources year on year, along with a third of primary school heads.

Head teachers up and down the country are currently calculating their budgets for the next financial year according to new school funding arrangements announced by the coalition government in November. Previously separate funding streams for schools have been grouped together into a single “dedicated schools grant”. These grants will be allocated to schools through local authorities although academies and free schools will receive funding directly from the government. It is yet to be seen how the changes will affect schools financially, although the results of the PA’s survey suggest head teachers are concerned they will lose out.

While learning resources include equipment such as books, lab utensils, playground equipment and digital resources, which equate to around 5% of schools’ budgets “as a rule of thumb”, the PA estimates that 10% of this goes on books. The annual schools budget is an estimated £41 billion. The Educational Publishers Council (EPA), the schools division of the PA, estimates that educational resources used to teach children is worth “at least £270m, perhaps as high as £370m”, with the textbooks market estimated at £150m of that figure and a digital market worth £65m.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said: “There can be no doubt that the predicted impact of the cuts on school budgets will mean that no area of expenditure is likely to be left unscathed, including the purchase of books and other materials.”

Independent retailers are also waiting with bated breath to see how their businesses will be affected in the changes to school funding. Marilyn Brocklehurst, of Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, said: “Everybody is saying it is going to be a very difficult financial year, but we don’t know how it is going to be difficult. We are waiting to see how school book buying will be affected by the new funding arrangements and we are cautious.”

However, Graham Taylor, director of educational, academic and professional publishing at the PA, said the changes announced to the new curriculum could be positive for the industry.

“The next financial year will be quite challenging for publishers, but after that there is a good chance that things will pick up because the new syllabus and curriculum will kick in. Because schools will have more control over their budget, there will be a more organic market for publishers.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “It’s always rightly been down to teachers themselves to decide which materials are best to use in class. But textbooks are part and parcel of school life and it’s impossible to see how that will change. Schools have got the best possible funding settlement over the next four years, with more control over budgets for heads and more money targeted at the poorest pupils—despite the tighter public finances.”