There will be more money for literacy, numeracy and computer skills. More for teachers of basic skills. More for books - and a new curriculum." With those words at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on September 27, Education Secretary David Blunkett looked forward hopefully to the prospect of a second term in Government.
Whatever criticisms may be levelled at the education polices of the present government, it can hardly be accused of lethargy. The past three years have seen the huge drive for literacy and numeracy in primary schools, the revision of the national curriculum, new exams and qualifications at 16-19. Proposals are coming forward for the extension of the literacy and numeracy programmes into key stage 3 of secondary schools and the redrawing of the GCSE exams. All these changes demand new books - and quickly.
The current period has been one of the most hectic in school publishing history.
The exhibition at the Business Design Centre next week will give teachers an opportunity to judge how well publishers have coped in trying to provide them with the learning materials that they need. The event has proved to be one of the most successful and significant of its kind in the UK over recent years.
Last year, attendance by teachers topped 16,000. New publications will be there in abundance and publishers will be out in force. The exhibition will herald a new series of Publishers' Open Events where minstream publishers of textbooks and library books will introduce visitors to their new series.
To give Mr Blunkett his due, the Government has not been ungenerous over funds for books in schools in recent years. Very considerable sums were given to primary schools specifically for books to support the literacy strategy. The recent survey of schools conducted by the Educational Publishers Council for 1999-2000 indicates that this policy of ear-marking funds for books was hugely popular - as books are the basic tools of education. Since then, the Chancellor of Exchequer and the Secretary of State have given further funds to schools with an indication that a good proportion of these should be spent on their book stocks.
Alongside reduction in class sizes and repair of buildings, there is a need for a consistent strategy to improve provision of books and learning resources in schools. Despite the Government's efforts, the sums shown by the survey to be spent in schools (pound;19 per primary pupil, pound;22 per secondary pupil) remain well below the levels in other European countries and well below what is required to give pupils the books they need.
Government is particularly keen to encourage the use of new technology and the National Grid for Learning. An IT exhibition within the exhibition will focus on the latest developments in electronic publishing. Thus will the pathways of the future blend into the enduring landscape of books.
John Davies is director of the Educational Publishers Council