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Teachers must make greater use of textbooks, claims minister

A minister will today call on schools to use textbooks in most academic subjects to help England close the gap with the world’s “high performing” education systems.

Nick Gibb wants to challenge an “anti-textbook ethos” that he says exists in this country. But the school reform minister will also criticise the quality of textbooks, warning that publishers should not “pander to the lowest common denominator in the scramble for market share”.

“In this country textbooks simply do not match up to the best in the world, resulting in poorly-designed resources, damaging and undermining good teaching,” he is expected to tell a conference of education publishers in London.

The minister will argue that by making more use of high quality textbooks teachers “can provide a far better experience for pupils”.

But his stance has already received short shrift from a teaching union and from textbook publishers.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “Teachers need to exercise their own professional judgment about what resources they will use.”

Publishers say they “absolutely disagree” that UK textbooks are not up to scratch.

Mr Gibb’s speech has been inspired by a new paper, ‘Why Textbooks Count’ from Tim Oates, who headed the government’s national curriculum review.

Mr Oates, Cambridge Assessment’s research director, uses it argue that other countries, with higher international education rankings, make better use of textbooks. The paper goes on to put forward state approved textbooks as possible solution.

Mr Gibb believes that a “great textbook” can help teachers transform their classes and is “critical” for raising standards, but that its role had been “seriously neglected”.

“I would like to see all schools, both primary and secondary, using high quality textbooks in most academic subjects, bringing us closer to the norm in high performing countries,” he is expected to say.

Dr Bousted said: “Textbooks need to be part of the mix but most teachers and most pupils will get an awful lot of information in other ways now and we have to give them the tools to identify what sources are reliable and what sources are valid.”

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association and Caroline Wright, director of the British Educational Suppliers Association, said in a joint statement: “UK educational publishers create world-class teaching and learning materials for schools which are used all over the world, Singapore included, as evidenced by the fact that 40 per cent of British publishers’ revenues come from overseas sales.” 

For more on this story read the 21 November edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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