A new policy paper from the Cambridge Assessment Group has warned that the neglect of textbooks in our education system and publishing is one of the reasons that England has been overtaken by other education systems.
However the paper, written by Tim Oates, the body's group director of research and development, and with the backing of schools reform minister Nick Gibb, has drawn criticism from the Publishers Association (PA) and British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA).
The paper, Why Textbooks Count, blames theory-based educationalists for abandoning textbooks in favour of the use of "worksheets" and exam-based books, in contrast to locations such as Singapore, Finland and Shanghai, where high-quality textbooks are said to be a key part of the classroom. In the latest PISA international league tables, Singapore was ranked third and Finland fifth for science, Oates pointed out, while the UK was in 21st place.
Oates said: "We may not have been conscious of the movement in England away from the wide use of high quality textbooks, but it has happened. We've failed to notice the emergence, in other nations, of extremely well-theorised, well-designed, and carefully implemented textbooks."
He called for a "self-searching criticism of the status quo in England" and for a "concerted effort by publishers, the state, researchers and educationalists", to align more with emerging international standards.
In a foreword, Gibbs said he hoped the paper would "lead to the renaissance of intellectually demanding and knowledge-rich textbooks in England's schools."
However PA chief executive Richard Mollet and Caroline Wright, BESA director, took issue with the findings of the paper, saying in a joint statement: “We absolutely disagree that UK textbooks are not up to scratch. UK educational publishers create world-class teaching and learning materials for schools which are used all over the world, Singapore included, as evidenced by the fact that 40% of British publishers’ revenues come from overseas sales.
“We have greatly welcomed the flexibility this Government has introduced into the education environment and support the choice such flexibility brings. State approval of textbooks goes totally against this and would stifle the market in the UK. It would hinder development of a dynamic, innovative sector, would reduce choice for teachers and students and undermine one of Britain’s export success stories.”
The duo added: “It would be better for Government advisers such as Tim Oates to work together with educationalists and industry to tackle curriculum coherence and to provide sound advice and guidance to schools that will mean that our increasingly expert and professional teachers are left to choose the right textbooks for their own pupils.”
The paper was released to coincide with the education conference hosted by the Publishers Association today (20th November).