Take a stand for textbooks

20th August 2010 at 01:00

I've always thought it a pity that so many good articles appear in The TESS during the summer, a period when many readers forego their regular order in favour of holidays.

Don't worry: this isn't a subscription plug. But if you did miss the summer issues, you missed an interesting selection, not least a piece (July 9) that I wish everyone associated with education had seen.

It was an impassioned plea by John Greenlees on behalf of teachers everywhere. He made a compelling case to those in charge of educational purse strings that if they were interested in raising achievement, they should stop wasting money on things that have little demonstrable effect on attainment and start spending it on things that do. Namely: textbooks.

Well, I would say that, wouldn't I? And so would any other educational publisher who has invested money to serve a Scottish market with resources specific to our country's curricular needs.

But the continuation of those offerings is in some danger, and has been since the 2007 concordat removed ring-fenced funding from education, leading to significant redirection of (now, even scarcer) funds away from that sector.

It was with such concerns in mind that four Scottish publishers agreed to bind together, so to speak, and arranged a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Education last November. Hodder Gibson, Leckie amp; Leckie, Bright Red and TeeJay outlined concerns, including narratives outlining the calls we receive from teachers desperate to buy books, but who can't - unless they ask parents for money or even, in extremis, buy class sets themselves.

Fiona Hyslop, as it then was, seemed as frustrated as us by the diversion of council funds from education. She agreed to remind local authorities of their responsibility to fund the purchase of educational resources properly. She left office soon afterwards.

A follow-up meeting with her successor was set up. It was equally sympathetic, except that Michael Russell couldn't attend, so members of his department listened to us instead. We suggested that Mr Russell consider a repeat of Hugh Henry's last Labour act of educational benevolence - a reallocation of some funding directly to schools (60 million in early 2007), to be spent by them on items that they actually wished to purchase, ie, not items that their authorities thought they should have.

We asked if individual authority figures existed for total spends on textbooks. They don't. We didn't really need to ask the question because our sales figures, depleted though they are, show a correlation between authorities that spend significant per capita sums on books and those whose schools make regular appearances in those "Top Schools Tables", so beloved by the media.

Indeed, another summer article in The TES Magazine (July 30) reported a study conducted by the OU and Staffordshire University, which found compelling evidence that while ICT expenditure had little effect on exam results, spending on books had a significant positive impact.

We rest our case. We know money is tight. We know we'll sound like "special pleaders". But if you want Scottish textbooks in schools, helping to raise attainment, then may we respectfully suggest that you make your feelings known to the Government?

They might say it's down to the councils, but we still wonder: what's the point of being in government if you can't change things for the better?

John Mitchell, managing director, Hodder Gibson.

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