“The low level of textbook use is completely crazy, and a major driver in the excessive workload of English teachers,” says Robert Peal, a history teacher at the West London Free School and a textbook author.
“It is so common to hear teachers complain about staying up all night, resourcing lessons from fragments of content on the internet and the staff shared area, and then stressing out all morning when the printer jams.”
A reliable textbook can overcome such “needless stress”, he argues. But what makes a good textbook differs from subject to subject. “In modern foreign languages, maths or science, teachers will look for books where thought and effort has been put into the exercises,” he says. “In a humanities subject, I think it’s much more to do with the content and structuring of the prose.”
When writing the key stage 3 “Knowing History” series for Collins, he spent a lot of time discussing how to avoid overloading pupils with information, and instead sought to present it in ways they could understand.
“For example, before introducing the gunpowder plotters, it is vital to explain that Catholics were persecuted by James I, despite his mother being the Catholic martyr, Mary I.”
He adds: “Teachers are great at devising enquiry questions, choosing lesson activities, and sourcing images and video clips. What they struggle to do the night before a lesson is to write 800 words of fact-checked, coherent and lively prose. That is what a textbook should provide.
“A textbook should not be a straitjacket, with every moment of the lesson determined. Instead, it should serve as a starting point for a teacher’s planning, ensuring they can teach high-quality, content-rich lessons without endlessly burning through the midnight oil – not to mention their department’s printing budget.”