Publishers turn the page on CfE teaching tools

20th April 2012 at 01:00
Despite tighter budgets in schools and free materials flagged up by government, educational publishing companies are responding to the changing curriculum needs with a new range of textbooks and online materials

With growing pressure to deliver Curriculum for Excellence on ever- tighter budgets, and free resources being promoted by the Scottish government, times look tough for education publishers in Scotland.

But they are fighting back with new textbooks and online materials designed to help teachers to move forward with the curriculum developments.

In Moray, the council has just invested pound;3,000 in a new online CfE science resource, which is part of a series being officially launched next week by Paisley-based education publisher Hodder Gibson.

Dynamic Learning is said to be the only internet resource tailored to CfE by a major publisher, covering eight subjects through a variety of ready- made interactive learning tools, including animation and video clips, all geared towards flexible, independent learning.

The resources also allow teachers to incorporate their own electronic teaching materials into lesson plans and support cross-curricular learning by broadening their scope. So social studies resources, for example, include information designed to allow a history teacher to cover geography.

Alex Ross, a learning and teaching education officer at Moray Council who is also a qualified physics teacher, says: "What attracted us to the Science DL resource was the fact that it is couched in the CfE language. Our science teachers felt it suited our situation, providing an electronic environment in which they can assemble lessons using good-quality resources."

Meanwhile, Anna McWhannell, principal teacher of chemistry at Harris Academy in Dundee, believes the science DL package will play a key role in helping teachers there to deliver CfE.

She says: "We're being drip-fed drafts and final drafts from the SQA for courses we're meant to be teaching. We plan to use the DL framework, which marries really well with our own, and we like the fact that it can be adapted so pupils and teachers can work out together what suits them best."

Costing from pound;250 per school, each DL resource licence lasts at least four years and includes free access to the electronic version of the accompanying CfE textbook.

John Mitchell, managing director of Hodder Gibson, admits that is a risky move, but he believes schools will still buy traditional textbooks - as both Moray and Harris Academy have done.

He says: "To a lot of people, textbooks were anathema to the concept of CfE, because it's supposed to be about pupils following their own path of learning. We have followed CfE principles while also providing a body of facts that we feel pupils need to know."

Admitting that sales have dropped in recent years as education finances dwindle, he believes schools would have purchased "significantly more" if allowed to spend their budgets as they wish.

This last comment touches on concerns over how much freedom schools will have to spend the extra pound;3.5 million recently awarded by the government to support delivery of National 4 and 5 courses.

Meanwhile, fellow Scottish education publisher Leckie and Leckie is also set to produce new digital CfE resources after recruiting a former Guardian online education resources expert.

The Glasgow firm is also building on its CfE textbooks, Active Learning, which were launched two years ago.

Now Leckie and Leckie is targeting resources at pupils' pre-exam years, starting with maths. Sarah Falconer, company sales consultant, says: "We're really going for it this year with a substantial series called CfE Maths for pupils from the start of secondary school, providing complete coverage of all third-level experiences and outcomes."

The firm believes its new CfE textbooks offer a chance to reverse falling sales caused by budget cuts.

"We're now seeing CfE as an opportunity to create new products for National 4 and 5 in the next few years," Ms Falconer adds.

How have cuts affected resources?

Teacher A

"Standard grade books in 2009-10 were the last textbooks we were able to buy. The new Higher books could not be bought, so we are using out-of-date books supplemented with PowerPoints.

"In 1998, I had a per capita budget of pound;2,000 pa. My last per capita budget in 2010 was just over pound;600. We are being starved of resources and anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool."

Teacher B

"Funding has remained static for the past four years. However, there seems to be a noticeable disparity between schools in the same authority. A lot appears to depend upon the headteacher, and whether or not departments are able to make their case with him or her.

"This year has been different for us, as there has been a rush to spend at the end of the financial year, (with) a lot of money suddenly available just before the Easter holidays.

Call me cynical, but I believe that this year-end funding has been boosted in our authority by the introduction of the 33-period week - the 47 per cent cut in supply teachers' pay must have helped, together with the creation of faculties and reduction in promoted posts."

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