Local authority publications are finding an unexpectedly hungry market. Carolyn O'Grady reports on the success of this rapidly-expanding business One of the few local education authority publishing ventures to take a stand at the Education Show this year was Dudley Educational Services. The response, says Jean Longville, head of publishing, was staggering. One publication alone, a handbook for special needs co-ordinators, received 60 requests to purchase, even though it is not yet available.
"Resources produced by practising teachers, advisers and inspectors who are in daily contact with the needs of their schools are felt sometimes to be more practical and valuable in the classroom than some of the major publishers' titles," says Clive Pace, publishing manager of Leeds Education Advisory and Inspection Publishing, which is also expanding the production and publishing of resources.
Teachers, it appears, feel safer with LEA-produced products, particularly if they are curriculum-related. "By teachers, for teachers" is a compelling catch-phrase, and though mainstream publishers' products may be glossier and more professionally produced, the feeling remains that LEA services have their finger closer to the pulse.
Though the reduction in advisory and inspection services and the delegation of budgets to schools was initally taken to herald a decline in LEA publishing, it now seems that in some places publication of resources for a national market is proving to be a nice little earner.
Those that now have a foothold have found an eager market. "The increase in orders in the past few months has been at times overwhelming," says Clive Pace. Recently Leeds sold Pounds 5,000 worth of its Primary Curriculum Planning Pack in three weeks and it now supplies a large number of other LEAs in bulk from their range of resources. "I will be very surprised if in a matter of two years we are not making around Pounds 100,000 a year towards the common good, " says Dudley's chief inspector Ian Cleland.
Local authorities have found a niche in the market because their print runs are a fraction of what an average commercial publishers would consider economic. They don't have the enormous overheads and the research and writing is usually done as part of an LEA or school project.
Another advantage LEAs have, says Clive Pace, is that they can respond more quickly to demand for new publications than many mainstream publishers. Dudley's SEN Handbook, published promptly in the wake of the Code of Practice, illustrates this. A look at some of Leeds' current bestsellers, many hundreds of which have been sold, reveals their topical themes. They include People's Fax an information resource on minority communities in Britain; PE Guidelines 5-11: An Overview and a training video on gender equality policy and practice, Gender on the Timetable.
Another incentive for LEAs is that publishing ventures often complement their other activities. Dudley, for example, sees its publishing arm as complementary to its conferencing facilities at Saltwells Educational Development Centre. and some publications are directly linked to courses at the centre.
In Leeds, publishing is linked to an in-service training programme for the city's schools and publications often originate from courses or are marketed alongside them. The LEA also supports a variety of research and development projects in schools and the publishing of materials is seen as a natural spin-off from these and also an income generator for them, if there is clearly a national market for the publication.
Dudley's approach is more ad hoc. Many resources are published just for distribution to Dudley schools (schools have one copy free and can purchase further copies at a subsidised price); then if interest is shown beyond the area, the decision will be taken to distribute work nationally at a commercial price.
Looking to the future some local authorities are now investigating, or already involved in, sponsorship or working in collaboration with other organisations. Other media are also being examined. So far most of the resources have been print-based files of photocopiable materials are the most popular format with an occasional video.
Software is now rarely published by LEAs. But CD-Rom, which can be produced relatively cheaply, may offer another medium and also a way in for those authorities which may feel they have missed the boat.
Dudley Educational Services, Saltwells Educational Development Centre, Bowling Green Road, Netherton, Dudley DY2 9LY. Tel: 01384 634155. Leeds Education Advisory and Inspection Publishing, Elmette Lane, Leeds LS8 2LJ. Tel:0113 232 3046