No resources a textbook hazard

9th July 2010 at 01:00
At an end-of-term meeting, a group of teachers was asked to state one thing which would help them raise the standard of learning and teaching in their classrooms. There were many interesting, and surprising, answers, but the response which provoked the most agreement was: textbooks.

A young secondary teacher, an enthusiastic, hard-working and effective practitioner, told how she had submitted, during each of the past three years, a written request for a set of textbooks "to help me, and my pupils, with the Higher course". Each time she was told no funds were available.

Many teachers are similarly starved of finance for books and other resources which will directly benefit their pupils. Major cuts have already been made to the budgets of schools which have been struggling to remove the red ink from their ledgers. And, we are told, more stringent cuts to classroom supplies will be made during the year ahead.

What bothers many teachers is that the education budget seems to have so much money available for other things which are well back from the front line of the classroom. One probationer said her authority's probationers meet every second week in a hotel for staff development work. The cost of the room and some catering is pound;500 a time. That's pound;15,000 a session which would be saved if, as the probationer suggested, the meetings were held in schools.

Other teachers said they had attended mediocre in-service courses which were led by "eminent thinkers" who were being paid pound;500 or more for a day's work. In-service courses by "eminent doers" - practising teachers - it was agreed, provided a cheaper, and frequently superior, alternative.

Just about every teacher complained of "pretty useless newsletters" from their authority, which were badly written and provided little help with the introduction of the new curriculum. The combined cost of staff time and printing for each newsletter is considerable. Publishing the material on the internet would have saved significant sums.

Many teachers questioned the need for 30-plus education authorities, 30- plus directors of education and 30-plus teams of education officials, doing important things but also reinventing the wheel and using up valuable funds.

Learning and Teaching Scotland also received negative comments (outright scorn, if you want to be accurate). With inputs of large amounts of money, and some of our best teachers, the quality and usefulness of LTS's classroom resources, and in-service support, were deemed not good enough. One teacher suggested shutting down the "bloated quango" and diverting to schools the millions of pounds it consumes every year.

Certainly, most teachers were not banking on LTS providing high-quality classroom resources for delivering Curriculum for Excellence. "The huge cost of seconding and commissioning teachers to develop classroom materials," one teacher said, "was a misuse of talents and a poor use of limited funds."

A senior teacher pointed out that textbook publishers, which have a track record of delivering useful classroom resources, are having to cut back on book production for the Scottish curriculum because of the slump in orders. Textbooks, and other resources, have a real impact on learning and teaching and there is a genuine sense of rancour that cuts to department budgets are having a detrimental effect on learning standards.

The year ahead will involve a major reassessment of how funds are used in education. But if standards are to be maintained or improved, and the curriculum successfully delivered, more, not less, money should be available for textbooks and other classroom resources.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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