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Goodbye computer chips?

Could research questioning the value of IT spark a renaissance for the trusty old textbook? Helen Ward reports

Steve Hurd has spent more than 30 years developing ways of helping students learn through using computers. Now he wonders if tapping at keyboards is really better than turning pages.

The Open University researcher said: "Looking back I think things have gone overboard on ICT. It is out of kilter. Schools pick up the message that they will be clobbered if their technology is not up to scratch but no one looks at books.

"The Department for Education and Skills only collects data on ICT and doesn't ask about spending on books. Ofsted used to ask schools what was spent on books, but the last year that was done was 2003."

Mr Hurd, Malcolm Dixon of Liverpool John Moores university, and Joanna Oldham of Liverpool Hope university, have been analysing data collected from more than 6,000 primary schools over three years by Ofsted. They have also surveyed 540 heads.

They have come to the conclusion that spending pound;100 per pupil on books has a greater impact on average test scores across English, maths and science than the same amount spent on ICT or staffing.

They found the average key stage 2 test score was 27.5 and estimated that schools which spent pound;100 per pupil on books raised test scores from an average 27.5 to 27.9 or 1.5 per cent per child. This compared to pound;100 on ICT which would raise scores by 0.72 per cent per child.

Mr Hurd said he expected initially that the amount spent by a school on resources would have no effect on test results, once social class was taken into account. "It is surprising that books matter," he said. "It seems a small effect but it is significant."

But three-quarters of primary heads said that they had far less to spend on books than they wanted to because their hands are tied by other demands on their cash. One Essex school said resources for history and other foundation subjects had a budget of just pound;50 a year.

Meanwhile, the head of a small school in Derbyshire said: "Although money initially is earmarked for books, it sometimes has to be used in other areas such as staffing, if there is a shortfall in the budget."

The School Book Spending Survey by the Publishers' Association found that in 200304 primary schools spent pound;16.65 per pupil on books compared to a high of pound;21.84 in 1999, the year following the introduction of the national literacy strategy.

The TES revealed in February that spending by primary and secondary schools on insurance and computer software has also soared since 2003 and now dwarfs spending on books.

Mr Hurd does not believe that money for books should be ring-fenced: "I think the Government should treat teachers as professionals.

"Quite clearly they would be spending money on books but they are being leaned on from outside. They know they will be asked about ICT and that they will not be asked about books."

Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English education at King's college London, said she would not want to set computers and books in opposition to each other.

"Both have their place, but what is happening is the position of books has been eroded over time by a number of factors.

"There is no substitute for what books do: they give you a complete experience, especially story books. They ask you to construct another world and extend your vocabulary. A whole book entertains and is pleasurable."

Are low levels of book spending in primary schools jeopardising the national literacy strategy The Curriculum Journal. Vol 17. No 1, March 2006

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