Why we launched the Textbook Challenge


By Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association

Last week the Publishers Association launched a challenge: for every school child in England to have access to textbooks in the main subjects. At a time when teachers are struggling under heavy and sometimes unmanageable workloads, textbooks not only offer a way to reduce the amount of time teachers need to spend planning lessons, but they have also been shown to improve pupil attainment and education standards.

But despite these benefits, textbooks are currently underused in schools. An independent survey of primary and secondary teachers we commissioned, showed that while over 90% of teachers believe textbooks improve pupil attainment and nearly 60% say that using textbooks helps reduce the amount of time they spend planning lessons, over 63% of secondary and primary teachers could make more use of textbooks. Meanwhile one in five teachers are not making any use of them at all. Nearly half of the teachers surveyed said that funding had a significant impact on their ability to use textbooks more.

Other research has also highlighted the benefits of using high quality textbooks. A report by Tim Oates, a director at Cambridge Assessment and former chair of the National Curriculum Review, found that England’s low usage of textbooks compared to countries such as Singapore and Finland was one of the reasons why England was lagging behind in Maths and Sciences. Meanwhile a report from the Department of Education said that textbooks help reduce teacher workload, as it prevents them having to ‘reinvent the wheel’, reducing the time teachers spend searching for ad hoc resources, allowing them to focus instead on the intellectual exercise of planning sequences of lessons.

It is for these reasons that we felt it was important to launch the textbook challenge. 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 a role to play in working towards the solution.

As publishers heard at the Shifting Landscapes PA/BESA conference last Friday, we are living in challenging times, where we are seeing increasing pressure on education budgets and where classroom resources are not always viewed as a priority for stretched school funds. There is also the perception among some in the education sector that textbooks are a tool for ‘lazy’ teachers.

But as research shows, far from being the recourse of lazy teachers, textbooks help teachers focus on what they do best: teaching. As speakers at the conference highlighted, teachers still see the benefits of well written textbooks. Lord Jim Knight, Chief Education Adviser at TES, said that teachers want “credibly authored, quality content to teach with”. Meanwhile Ben Smith, an assistant head at North Kesteven School, said that a good resource “allows teachers to go into the classroom with an inventive creative exercise, a guarantee of quality”. He said that if teachers always start planning lessons from scratch “there is a lack of long-term planning and recognition of what learning is”.

Additionally publishers have worked hard over the past year to ensure that UK-produced textbooks are of the highest possible quality. The extent of these improvements has been praised by Tim Oates. He said: “In an extraordinarily short time, publishers in the UK have responded to the evidence from around the world on the educational importance of high quality textbooks, we are seeing the emergence of world-leading materials and accompanying staff development.”

Through the campaign we want to highlight the important role published learning resources play in the education system, to ensure that they are seen as positive teaching resources amongst teachers, parents, government and Ofsted. We would also like to see greater prioritisation of classroom resources and textbooks in particular.

If you want to support the campaign, visit the campaign website and sign up to become a supporter or promote the campaign via Twitter using the #textbookchallenge hashtag.