National curriculum is at risk of failure because of a lack of textbooks, government is warned

9th March 2018 at 00:04
All schools judged to be 'coasting' or 'requires improvement' should be compelled to use externally provided resources, says thinktank

The national curriculum is at risk of failure because too few teachers have access to suitable classroom resources, a thinktank is warning.

More high-quality textbooks are needed to ensure that children from all backgrounds receive the rigorous education they deserve, according to a report published today by Policy Exchange.

The report argues that the implementation of the 2014 national curriculum has stalled and, without better curriculum materials, there is no guarantee that all children will receive a broad and balanced education.

It highlights a finding revealed by Tes that only 10 per cent of teachers use textbooks in more than half their lessons – and even fewer expect to be doing so by 2020.

And it says that teachers have been trained to believe that they need to make as many of their own resources as possible, adding significantly to their workload.

It calls for Ofsted to include assessment of curriculum quality in its new framework – due for review in 2019. And it says all schools judged to be “coasting” or “requires improvement” should be compelled to use externally provided resources.

Many teachers rely too much on unregulated and free online resources, many of which are poor quality, says Delivering on the Promise of the 2014 National Curriculum.

But, the report adds, it is not for government to produce curriculum resources for schools. Instead, they should be published by "high-status institutions such as museums, the Royal societies, high-performing multi-academy trusts or respected academic publishers", it says.

'A knowledge-rich curriculum'

The report claims that enhancing the content of the curriculum taught to children can be a major factor in improving social justice.

But the new national curriculum has been neglected, it says. "The curriculum, the key content taught to our children, was intended to be a major part of recent educational reforms, but it is in danger of becoming the forgotten sibling," claims the report.

The report also argues strongly in favour of a knowledge-rich curriculum, echoing comments by schools minister Nick Gibb – another strong supporter of textbooks.

Policy Exchange’s head of education and social reform, John Blake, who wrote the report, said: "A knowledge-rich curriculum benefits children of all backgrounds. The new national curriculum was much-needed, but is in danger of not delivering its promise because too many teachers aren’t using the best resources."

Regarding teacher workload, he added: "We shouldn’t be expecting teachers to make all of their resources for every lesson themselves, and it’s madness that teacher training promotes this as routine." 

Countries like Singapore, which have highly rated education systems and report lower teacher workload, use textbooks much more than English schools, he said.

But he added: "The teaching unions have resisted textbooks and other effective materials for purely ideological reasons, which harms both children and their own members."

Tes found that a big factor in schools moving away from textbooks was a shortage of funding.

Policy Exchange sets out several ways in which more money could be made available to schools. It wants the government’s £7.7 million curriculum fund to be used to provide seed funding for rigorous "oven-ready" resources made by trusted institutions already involved in education, and for a “match-making” exercise for teachers who may wish to expand the reach of their own high-quality resources.

The Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund and the Strategic School Improvement Fund should be merged into a single “School Improvement Fund”, it recommends, with a curriculum strand from which primary schools and schools in the government's "opportunity areas" could bid for funding to deploy resources.

While achievement of Qualified Teacher Status should require teachers to demonstrate that they can create small-scale resources, the majority of teaching by newly qualified teachers should be based on material created by others, the thinktank says.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: “Academic standards are rising in our schools thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, with 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.

"As I said during my speech on this subject at the Policy Exchange last year, textbooks are key to driving up standards, providing detailed knowledge to support the teaching of our new national curriculum. We have already seen more high quality textbooks come to the market in recent years and in January we announced £7.7million funding to support the development of these important resources.”

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