DfE scheme to rate textbooks ‘would be devastating'

Publishers warn of risk of introducing a quality mark for textbooks and other curriculum resources

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Educational publishers are concerned that the Department for Education wants to introduce a quality-assurance scheme for textbooks and other curriculum resources, which they say would be “devastating”.

The DfE has been talking to publishers about “how best to inform teachers about what high-quality resources are available”.

And research commissioned by the DfE on the “use and perceptions of curriculum support resources in schools” has suggested: "The introduction of a national quality mark for resources would provide some confidence to teachers and schools more broadly so that resourcing (and therefore budgeting) decisions being made were informed by an additional layer of quality assurance.”

Fears have also been raised by a report in the Bookseller magazine, which said that the DfE was thought to favour educational resources being put before an assessment panel, which would rate them as gold, silver or bronze, in a scheme supported in some way by the £7.7 million curriculum fund.

One anonymous publisher said: “It creates a scenario where [the DfE-appointed panel] can pick one or two bodies of content and say ‘Those are the ones schools will buy’.

"It massively distorts the market and makes it impossible for the current wide range of content to be out there. It will be devastating – though if you are one of the few winners, you do nicely.”

The DfE has previously used a panel approach to assess which maths-mastery materials should become eligible for match-funding through its Teaching for Mastery programme. Currently, only two programmes – Maths: No Problem! and Power Maths Key Stage 1 – have been approved for match-funding. And, for the first year of funding, only Maths: No Problem! had been approved, causing concern among heads about the lack of choice for schools.

The expansion of a similar scheme to other subjects has worried publishers.

The Publishers Association said that it welcomed government policy to encourage the use of high-quality published resources, but said any quality-assurance scheme could limit choice.

Emma House, deputy chief executive officer of the Publishers Association, said: “We and our members within educational publishing are absolutely committed to a constructive dialogue with the DfE on this project.

"Of course, some form of quality assurance can be helpful in terms of assisting schools and teachers to identify quality products and secure the best value. However, externally implemented schemes carry risk, and must be very carefully planned and introduced otherwise it can inadvertently restrict teacher choice and limit investment in new products.

“There were issues with the maths mastery process and implementation, and we hope that this project factors in the lessons learned from that. Publishers can play a key role in developing a scheme that is meaningful and helps schools and teachers navigate the resources available.”

Details of the curriculum fund were announced in July. It will give schools grants to help share teaching resources with other schools, with the aim of saving teachers from having to repeatedly create lesson plans from scratch; the DfE has said that funding for the pilot of the programme was for schools that had developed “knowledge-rich curriculum programmes.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Published curriculum resources, such as textbooks, play an important role in supporting teachers and pupils in the classroom.

"We have been speaking with publishers on how best to inform teachers about what high-quality resources are available across the curriculum.

“High-quality textbooks are a central feature of the maths-mastery approach. We run an annual independent panel process to allow publishers to submit textbooks for feedback and approval.”

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes