How Much Is Spent on Schoolbooks

How Much Is Spent on Schoolbooks


Allocating School Resources: Does the inspection regime cause ICT to be emphasised at the expense of books?

Steve Hurd*+, Jean Mangan# and Nick Adnett#

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 11-13 September 2003

October 6th 2003

This is a working paper and the authors would welcome constructive criticism. The contents are not to be quoted in other publications without the written consent of the authors.

Please send any comments or suggestions to:

Steve Hurd, Open University, 351 Altrincham Road, Sharston, Manchester, M22 4UN

Tel: 0161 956 6802 E-mail:

Allocating School Resources: Does the inspection regime cause ICT to be emphasised at the expense of books?

Steve Hurd*+, Jean Mangan# and Nick Adnett#


We investigate whether the current allocation of spending by schools on educational resource inputs, particularly books and ICT, is efficient. We draw upon data derived from 542 secondary school inspections conducted by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) between September 2000 and July 2001. We find that the current pattern of resource allocation favours ICT rather than books and provides evidence that this may, in part, reflect the emphasis placed on ICT by the inspection regime. We then consider the justification for this pattern of resource allocation. After evaluating the theoretical literature we utilise a production function methodology to empirically assess the contribution of different inputs to student performance. Our results indicate a possible inconsistency between the goals of the examination system and the emphasis placed upon ICT in school inspections, and question whether schools are devoting too small a proportion of their resources to books.

* Centre for Research and Development in Teacher Education, Open University
# Institute for Education Policy Research, Staffordshire University
+ Corresponding author: Open University, 351 Altrincham Road, Sharston, Manchester, M22 4UN
Tel: 0161 956 6802 E-mail:

Allocating School Resources: Does the inspection regime cause schools to emphasise ICT at the expense of books?

1. Introduction

Whether increased educational funding improves student performance has been the subject of extensive debate. Hanushek’s (2003) survey of this debate concludes that a ‘wide range of analyses indicate that overall resource policies have not led to discernible improvement in student performance’ (page F89). Vignoles et al.’s (2000) survey of UK research also concludes that the link between educational expenditure and outcomes has not been proven, though they point out that research has suffered from poor quality data and failed to fully examine interactions between school inputs and resources. One explanation for these results is that schools do not allocate resources efficiently, perhaps because their allocation is distorted by the need to reflect the preferences of parents and/or inspectors. In this paper we consider the latter possibility; an issue previously neglected in the literature.

Apart from seeking to maximise educational outcomes, a school’s allocation of spending is likely to be influenced by the desire to be in the vanguard of educational innovations, to win the approval of ones peers, to attract and retain high-ability students and to earn the approval of the inspectorate. We concentrate here upon the latter and begin our analysis by examining the distribution of current spending on books and identifying the extent to which parental expenditure has been substituted for that of schools. Section 3 reports evidence on the sub-optimality of educational resource allocation and examines the extent to which the displacement of book expenditure can be explained by the signals given by Ofsted. Here we present an investigation of the relative emphasis placed on book and IT provision in the published inspection reports. Our empirical investigation of the effects of inputs on attainment is presented in Section 4. Initially we outline the theory of educational production functions and the problems faced in choosing between alternative specifications. Our data is then described and the rationale for our choice of model explained. Our results suggest that measures of IT spending have no influence on average student achievement, though there is a positive impact on Ofsted inspection scores as anticipated by our discussion in Section 3. The results for book expenditure are mixed, though there are some indications of a positive impact on student achievement. Section 5 contains our conclusions.

2. Provision of books

By schools

The Chief Inspector of Schools points out in his 2003 Annual Report that: “learning resources remain inadequate in one in six schools. Shortages of textbooks and computers, together with limited library facilities, are the most common deficiencies.” Out of median total school expenditure per student of £2511 in 2000-2001 only £20 was spent on books. We excluded from our study a few schools with very high figures for learning inputs as they apparently represented the start-up costs of new schools. On the basis of median values, expenditure per student on Information Technology (IT) is 75% higher than on books. As a proportion of total school expenditure, books took up only 0.4% of the school budget, whereas IT accounted for 1.4% and learning resources as a whole just 6.2%. The bulk of expenditure was devoted to staff costs and to buildings, with the former accounting for around 80% of total expenditure.

To put the figure for book spending in perspective, the typical cost of a GCSE textbook is £15. Ofsted data reveal that the average stock of books per student is 11, which, using the average price of a GCSE textbook, we can convert into a current stock value of £165. Maintaining current expenditure on books it will take the typical school over 8 years to replace the current stock, with no improvement in overall provision. An implication being those students must be relying on the use of older books for much of their studies.

The state of book provision has been a cause for concern for some years. In the autumn of 1997 Ofsted launched an investigation into schools with the poorest book provision. Both inadequate levels of school funding and the way money was allocated by the schools themselves were implicated (Hinds, 1997). Book spending in the UK was reported to be just over one-eighth of the level in Norway in 1999. Concerns at the time led to the government providing each school, primary as well as secondary, with a one-off grant of £2000, earmarked for books – but at little over £2 per child for the average secondary school, this would have had little impact (Howson, 1999). A study of 10,882 students from 54 schools found that 44% of students had to share textbooks. Only 35% of students could keep books on extended loan, including use at home. 21% of students said their parents had had to buy them essential books (Johnson, 2002). In a comparative international study of the use of mathematics textbooks Haggarty and Pepin (2002) found that in France and Germany each student is provided with a textbook for their exclusive use. In France the book is loaned to students by the school whereas, in Germany, parents have to buy prescribed textbooks for their children. In marked contrast, in England they found that “very many pupils…had no access to the school textbook to help their learning, and consequently, they had to rely entirely on teacher-guided input in lessons”. The main reason for this, stated by teachers in the study, was a shortage of funds.

By households

In the UK, parents have been slow to adapt their behaviour to the reality of endemic under funding. However, a survey by Norwich Union (2002) found that parents spent £37 on books for each secondary school child. This was based on street interviews in five major cities using a quota sample of 250 parents. If representative, it implies that parents are now spending more on schoolbooks than schools.

Our own estimates suggest that the Norwich Union figures probably overestimate parental spending. At our request, the Office for National Statistics carried out a text search of the expenditure diaries of 7473 households included in the 2000-1 National Expenditure and Food Survey[1] for all plausible references to book and schoolbook spending. We categorised the items into those books that were obviously school related and general spending on books and aggregated the figures. The average household spending on books was £60.33 per year, broadly equating to no more than £20 per person. For households with schoolchildren only £11.82 was positively identifiable as schoolbooks spending. This translates into £5 to £10 per child – between a quarter and a half of the amount spent by schools. As some of the general household book spending could include school books the figure is likely to be higher than this, though not as high as the Norwich Union figure.

In considering the effects of educational resources available to schoolchildren from home, we should also take into account the growth of Information Technology facilities. Latest Expenditure and Food Survey figures reveal that that 50% of households in the UK have a personal computer and 40% have access to the Internet (National Statistics, 2003). Growing household access to computers is likely to accentuate the school-plus-home educational resource bias in favour of IT facilities and increase overall inequities.

3. The sub-optimality of educational resource allocation

According to Pritchett and Filmer (1999) the evidence from a large number of studies shows that educational resources are rarely allocated to maximise student outcomes. They claim there is a systematic tendency in different countries to spend too much on teacher inputs and to neglect learning resources. Harbison and Hanushek (1992) measured the cost effectiveness of books as eighteen times that of teachers’ salary inputs in northeast Brazil. A World Bank (1996) study of India found teaching material to be fourteen times more effective than teachers’ salary inputs in enhancing learning outcomes. A review of 37 studies by Fuller and Clarke (1994) indicated a broad consensus that books and instructional materials were of relatively greater importance, at the margin, than class size and teacher inputs.

Within learning resources there has been a strong push to expand the use of information technology (IT) in schools and this, arguably, has been at the expense of other resources, such as books. The current UK government has spent over £1billion creating an information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, stimulating the market for content and training teachers. The 2000 Lisbon Strategy on economic, social and environmental renewal provides for broadband internet in every EU school (Europa, 2003). A press release from the Dfes (2003) asserts, on the basis of the ImpaCT2 study on the effects of ICT on learning (Harrison et al, 2002), that “Research shows that pupils who use ICT in the classroom get better results than those that don’t.” However, the evidence they cite was only statistically significant in two subjects, the effect on student test scores was small and no account was taken of the opportunity cost of displacing other resources such as books.

Cuban (2001) evaluated the experience of Silicon Valley, California that had come under pressure from local community and business interests to make greater use of IT in schools. Computers were supposed to make schools more efficient, teaching and learning more engaging and prepare young people for working life. However, Cuban found that in the Silicon Valley schools ICT was failing to make the expected impact. A study by Angrist and Lay (2002) in Israel concluded that money spent on IT had no positive effect on learning outcomes and that the money would have been better spent on other classroom resources.

A bandwagon for IT has been reinforced by the growth of competition between schools. Schools are anxious to demonstrate that they perform well against the standards set for them. In the education quasi-market schools are often pre-occupied with their positions in national-examination league tables and with their Ofsted inspection reports (Adnett and Davies, 2003). Though, as Shaw et al. (2003) found, there is no positive relationship between a school being inspected and its subsequent examination achievement. The school inspection regime includes an evaluation of the availability and use of learning resources. We conducted a careful text search of 18 school reports selected randomly from each of the 9 standard regions of England (see Appendix A). The reports contain comments on textbook availability and use, such as:

“absence of textbooks in many areas”

“an over reliance on photocopied worksheets”

“textbooks have to be shared”

“too few books to be used for homework” “low-level homework tasks”

“over reliance on textbooks in some lessons”.

As the data in Appendix A show there is a much stronger tendency to comment on the availability and use of IT than of books. While there were 179 mentions of textbooks in the 18 reports analysed, there were no fewer than 1321 references to computers and IT – a ratio of 7.4:1 in favour of computers. Such an imbalance is likely to reinforce an unwarranted bandwagon in favour of computers and away from books. It is this possibility that our empirical analysis seeks to examine.

4. Empirical Investigation

Our empirical investigation sets out, using Ofsted data, to determine whether there is evidence to support the view that educational spending is being misallocated between books and information technology. We also investigate whether the signals generated in Ofsted reports match the evidence from our production function estimation regarding efficient resource allocation.

General Issues in Model Formulation

Educational institutions can be modelled as organisations using resources to achieve learning outcomes hence, in principle, enabling analysis of the determinants of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. However, establishing the relationship between outputs and inputs is particularly complex, given that schools contribute to a range of educational outcomes and that they use a customer-input technology. The latter reflects that the ability of their students and the contributions of their peers and families together to dominate outcomes. A common starting point for recent economic analysis of school performance is to apply a production function commonly utilised in industrial organisation analysis (Belfield, 2000). The school is treated as the production unit which has an intake of students and uses resources, such as teachers and books, to add value in terms of increased educational attainment. The educational production function contains the following elements:

ATTt = f(ATTt-1, FAMt-1, PEERt-1, SCHt-1) (1)

Where t is the end and t-1 is the beginning of the period under consideration, ATT is educational attainment, FAM are family inputs, PEER are peer group effects, and SCH are school inputs.

Typically, schools are assumed to wish to maximise a single aggregate measure of student outcomes. Hence if we assume that schools are passive with respect to their overall resources and student body, their task is to allocate given resources in such a way that achievement is maximised. That is, they distribute their resources between teacher salaries and learning resources until no further reallocations can improve aggregate student achievement. It follows, making conventional assumptions about technology and assuming perfectly informed decision-makers, that such behaviour ensures that the last unit of resource spent on books yields the same effect on achievements as the last unit spent on ICT. However, differences in the efficiency with which schools utilise resources to achieve their objectives may prevent identification of the relative productivity of factor inputs. The latter are likely given that costs per students and staff hours per student are both highly significantly negatively related to school size and the capacity utilisation rate of schools (Taylor and Bradley, 2000).

Measurement errors and omitted variables create additional problems in empirical work. Some inputs, such as family input, do not have market prices which can be attached and it is not clear how to construct a single measure of student achievement with researchers differing in their favoured measure. Other inputs are unlikely to be adjusted for quality and vintage, for example, the previous year’s total expenditure on ICT may be a poor proxy for the effectiveness of a school’s ICT in the following year. In addition to omitted variable problems, since teaching staff typically account for around 70% of a secondary school’s discretionary expenditure and books and equipment only around 5%, differences across schools in expenditure on the latter may be too small to matter.

As Krueger (1999) points out, functional form issues have been driven in part by concern for omitted variables. Researchers often specify education production functions in terms of changes in achievement to difference out omitted characteristics that may be correlated with school resources. Such practices, however, raise further problems if omitted characteristics affect the trajectory of student achievement over time. Theory provides little assistance as to the preferred form of the production function for empirical purposes (linear, log linear or translog, Hanushek et al. 1996, Figlio, 1999), since effectively they are making very simplistic or ‘black-box’ assumptions about the educational process (Vandenberghe, 1999).

The general failure to observe any systematic resource effects across different datasets and research methodologies may reflect the methodological problems outlined above, measurement errors and data limitations or that resource effects are insignificant. The latter may reflect diminishing returns to educational production or compensatory resourcing arrangements, whereby greater resources are allocated to poorer areas, schools or weaker students. Two further possibilities are that there may have been convergence of school quality or, as we have introduced above, that the preferences of inspectors may constrain schools’ abilities to allocate resources efficiently.