Teachers are not the best judges of what makes a good textbook because they buy glossy coffee-table books rather than good instructional texts, according to new research.
Schools would buy better books if they allowed their students to help to select texts, the study of biology textbooks found.
Pupils are sick of unhelpful illustrations and want a return to a more traditional format, reported John Kearsey, of De Montfort University, based in Leicester and Bedford, and Sheila Turner, of London University's Institute of Education.
Sadly, teachers are influenced by glossy photographs when buying books, and often failed to check how useful the diagrams are, they found.
One in three of the 1,520 pupils surveyed said they would happily forfeit colourful photographs in favour of clearer diagrams.
They defined a good textbook as one with a clear structure and layout, with obvious links between figures and text.
One said: "I don't need to know what Charles Darwin looked like. I don't even look at the pictures unless they are related to the work."
The researchers surveyed 14 and 15-year-olds studying the Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences course in 12 schools. More than 60 per cent of the pupils said they liked using the book, but nearly one in four disliked it.
The report said: "It would seem that students are more pragmatic about textbooks than some teachers give them credit for. "