Textbooks ‘pay for themselves’ if they save teachers 4.5 minutes a day


School textbooks need to save teachers only four and a half minutes a day in order to pay for themselves, according to new independent research which suggests cutting textbook use is a false economy.

With the UK school system facing real-term budget cuts of 8% by 2019/20, according to the National Audit Office, textbooks are a victim of classroom austerity and unit sales are declining. Instead, teachers are forced to rely on free online resources of varying quality, with textbooks increasingly seen as an unaffordable luxury. In a 2017 NUT/ATL survey, 73% of teachers said their budget for books and equipment had been cut, and fewer than one in ten teachers now say they use textbooks in more than half their lessons.

Frontier Economics, in a report commissioned by the Publishers Association, looked at the role of educational materials in teacher time savings. The average teacher spends nine hours per week preparing their classes, with the total value of this time equating to £4.8bn a year. The estimated total UK spend on printed educational resources is £196m. Using this information, the report authors conducted a break-even analysis to uncover that textbooks need only save teachers four and a half minutes each day to pay for themselves.

There is some existing evidence suggesting that textbooks do save teacher time—with some limited survey data suggesting a saving of 18 minutes a day or more. Against this figure, the report authors note that “textbooks pay for themselves four times over”. It is also noted that their calculation is based on data for full-time teachers only. As textbooks are likely to save time for part-time teachers too, four and a half minutes is a conservative calculation.

When the average teacher spends nine hours per week preparing their classes, the time that they can save is potentially hugely valuable, freeing teachers up to do other things. It could reduce teacher workload, be used to give students more individual attention, used for lesson delivery planning or a number of other things which could influence pupil attainment.

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said:

“This research shows that cutting spend on textbooks is a false economy and demonstrates the important role good quality textbooks can play in saving teacher time.

“When teachers are struggling under heavy and sometimes unmanageable workloads, quality textbooks not only offer a way to reduce the amount of time spent planning lessons, but they have also been shown to improve pupil attainment and education standards.

“While there is no silver bullet in helping to solve the problem of excessive teacher workload or improving pupil attainment, it is clear that textbooks have an important role to play.”

Read the report: Publishing’s Contribution to School Education: The role of educational materials in teacher time savings (Frontier Economics, 14 March 2018).