It’s time for textbooks to make a comeback

|4 min read

“The level of interrogation that goes into each page would be difficult for anyone to understand who’s not part of the process.” — Adam Gifford, Maths — No Problem! Series Editor

The pandemic has made one thing abundantly clear — teachers need more support.

Many are “hitting the wall” after being on high alert since March 2020, Jon Severs writes in an article for Tes Magazine. Teachers have “worked their holidays, they worked their evenings, they worked their weekends. In marathon terms, they were the ones who got out in front and set the pace.”

Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, says in an article in Schools Week, that the profession is “haemorrhaging teachers,” with more than 40% leaving within 10 years of qualification. The key cause cited by those who leave is “excessive workload caused by accountability pressures.”

What’s the best way to support teachers through these difficult times? Maths — No Problem! would argue for a return of high-quality textbooks. That might seem obvious. It is, after all, our main source of revenue.

But we’re not the only ones calling for a Textbook Renaissance.

In his landmark 2014 policy paper Why Textbooks Count, Tim Oates, an authority on the school curriculum, concludes high-quality textbooks “free teachers up to concentrate on refining pedagogy and developing engaging, effective learning.”

The failure to recognise that good textbooks aren’t antithetical to high-quality pedagogy “may be impeding improvement of education in England,” he says.

A 1996 study found that the highest-performing teachers most supported using well-designed textbooks. One of the key reasons was that they free up time “to focus on learner progress rather than designing learning materials.”

Louise Hoskyns-Staples, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education at the University of Worcester and a national maths lead, says an anti-textbook ethos and constantly stretched budgets has led educators away from textbooks in primary classrooms.

However, that leaves teachers “forced to plan bespoke lessons for their classes, often without the necessary time, or depth of knowledge required to do an outstanding job, while our pupils received an inconsistent education with different methods of teaching and without the worksheets and textbooks they required for practice,” she says.

Read about what happened when Louise reintroduced textbooks at her school.

Textbooks helped newly qualified teachers translate theory into practice by providing “a strong degree of security” and “structure,” according to a 2019 case study by the University of Brighton. One participant said, “I’d have a lot more questions and doubts over what I should be doing and what I should be teaching if I didn’t have the textbook.”

“No teacher, no matter how passionate, has the stamina to teach an entire year’s curriculum, mark, then go home and prepare lessons for the next day, every night,” said Lee Fei Chen, a Singapore-based publishing executive during the 2018 International Summit on Textbooks. She believes introducing textbooks can overcome this workload issue.

One of the greatest benefits of high-quality textbooks is that they give time back to teachers. This 2018 report commissioned by the UK Publishers Association estimated textbooks would pay for themselves if they saved teachers just 4.5 minutes a day. In fact, they were found to save four times that amount of time.

Perhaps the Internet was supposed to make textbooks unnecessary — like everything else. But as Adam Gifford says on Episode 11 of the School of School podcast, it may seem like there’s enough educational content on the Internet to “keep your printer whirring away for days and days. The problem is, much of that content isn’t doing children any favours.”

Contrast that with the care that goes into producing high-quality resources.

Adam, experienced classroom teacher, Head and now Maths — No Problem! Series Editor says, “the level of interrogation that goes into each page would be difficult for anyone to understand who’s not part of the process.”

Academics at the doctorate level, experts in various fields — whether it’s maths mastery, assessment, or the Early Years — along with dedicated writers with decades of teaching experience are all involved in producing the books.

Then there’s the creative team, which includes developmental editors, production editors, illustrators and designers. There’s also a rigorous system of review by teachers, consultants and accredited schools throughout the process.

“It’s the level of rigour that should be there. Children are relying on us to ensure that the content that’s being produced will support their learning. There’s nothing more important than that,” says Adam.