Textbooks are a vital teaching tool and must not be a victim of classroom austerity


By Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association

The unmanageable increase in teacher workload has been well documented over the past few years, leading to reports that schools are struggling to both attract and retain new teachers.

With more than 20 per cent of teachers reporting that that they routinely work more than 60 hours every week, it is clear more action is needed to address this problem.

Therefore last weekend’s intervention from the Secretary of State for Education, pledging to tackle teacher workloads, is both encouraging and overdue.

A range of interventions will be needed to tackle this issue. We need to free up time for our teachers to teach and minimise unnecessary time spent on bureaucracy and red tape.

This issue is complex. There isn’t a single quick fix – but we do think that some significant ways to lighten the load have so far been overlooked. Increasing the use of textbooks as learning and teaching aids is, we believe, an important part of the solution – a small fix with a big impact.

Textbooks are sniffed at by parts of the UK teaching profession, where prevailing thought demands that teachers plan their own lessons and augment their own materials with downloads from the internet.

But the evidence shows a strong correlation between countries with high rates of textbook use (such as South Korea and Finland) and performance in international benchmarking in subjects like Maths. By contrast, just 10 per cent of UK children are issued with textbooks – and our performance over the past two decades has lagged to match.

According to the 2016 Teacher Workload Survey published by the Department for Education, teachers spend approximately nine hours a week – or more than one day in five – planning their lessons. A 2016 survey from HarperCollins conservatively estimated that using a textbook to help plan and structure lessons could save teachers 18 minutes per day – or 90 minutes a week.

Tim Oates CBE of Cambridge Assessment, one of the foremost experts in curriculum design, was right to conclude in his 2014 report ‘Why Textbooks Count’ that high quality textbooks provide considerable support to both teachers and pupils, and a failure to recognise this fact may be impeding the improvement of education in England.

British textbooks are acknowledged as some of the best in the world. For example, 95% of the industry’s English Language Teaching sales revenues are generated by exports. We are known for developing high quality, engaging content for every subject and every ability. These materials are relied upon by teachers around the world – but not, it seems, by many UK teachers.

We recognise cost is an important factor. 73% per cent of teachers last year said their budgets for books and equipment had been slashed, according to an NUT/ATL survey. Instead, many (either by preference or plain necessity) have to turn to free online resources of varying quality.

However, cutting spend on textbooks is a false economy and will make life for teachers harder.

Our analysis, conducted by Frontier Economics and published this week, indicates that a textbook only needs to save a teacher four and a half minutes per day to pay for itself. The evidence suggests they save more than four times that amount.

Textbooks must not be seen as an unaffordable luxury – they are a vital time-saving tool for teachers which reap dividends both in term of productivity and academic results.

If teachers are having to create their own classroom resources in the absence of good quality textbooks, they are using up precious time which could be spent on other, more effective activities.

2018 is the third year of the Publishers Association’s Textbook Challenge, a campaign calling for every child to have access to a textbook in the main subject areas, to help make teacher workload more manageable and increase pupil attainment.

We are glad that others are coming round to this view. Only last week, Policy Exchange published its educational review, Completing the Revolution: Delivering on the Promise of the 2014 National Curriculum, which concluded that inadequate materials for teaching the National Curriculum are holding back pupils and increasing teacher workloads.

If teachers don’t have access to high quality, standardised learning materials in order to deliver the curriculum, then standards of education are more likely to vary, putting some children at a disadvantage to others.

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, has now joined Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, in calling for teacher time to be refocused away from red tape and toward time spent on and with students. Nick Gibb has been a strong advocate of effective and widespread textbook use and – like him – we believe this can help teachers and students like.

Investing in textbooks will help time-poor teachers deliver a standardised, world class education to the workforce of tomorrow.