School textbooks: plus ça change
13 Nov 2015
This September was a bit of a watershed* for me because I've now been working at schoolzone for as long as I taught science - 15 years apiece.
A lot's changed in 30 years; a lot remains the same. The folk at Schoolzone devote their entire time to keeping an eye on what's changing in schools and this week, two interesting observations popped up.
Firstly, in a survey and interviews, we noted a resurgence of interest in textbooks (more of this in forthcoming posts): in some ways this is no great surprise as new specs are just starting to be delivered and teachers use textbooks as "safety nets" as one head of maths put it. But there's more to it than this. We see teachers who are a bit bored with some of the alternatives, such as digital resources. Which brings me to the second observation.
Teachers (not many, admittedly) have told us that they have tried tablet PCs and been disappointed, that the use of IT is no longer very interesting, that computers are just tools - and so on. In other words, IT appears to have reached a tipping point (or is it a another watershed?), where it is simply part of the infrastructure and no longer a motivational ingredient of teaching and learning. This is perhaps stating it a bit strongly just now, but there certainly seems to be a move in this direction.
There's also a third ingredient to the resurgence of textbooks and that's Ofsted. For a long time teachers have felt that if they were observed using textbooks in lessons, Ofsted would rate them as boring (OK that's not the actual term they'd use), but that myth, or myth-understanding, has now largely been dispelled. While they may still be reluctant to use them during inspection, they are much happier about using them in general. Previously, when we have researched textbooks, teachers have tended to say that they don't want them, but that's changed: now they are much more happy to admit to the benefits of textbooks.
I can hear publishers asking "well if that's true, why aren't schools buying more textbooks, then?". One reason is that some departments haven't yet finally settled on the new specs. Teachers tell us that they need to see the exams (real exams, especially since Ofqual's criticisms of the first maths specimen papers last term) before they finally settle on either the spec (they're all so similar that it's easy to switch) much less before they spend a small fortune on new sets of textbooks. The reason a vast majority of teachers prefer exam board approved textbooks is that they assume this means that exam prep content will be accurate and reliable, which isn't possible until the first exams have been seen.
So, it seems to be a case of plus ca change... but it's taking a little longer than usual to stay the same.
* I'm not really sure what a watershed is, since water doesn't sound like something that you could keep in a shed**
** OK, just Googled it: still not sure why "shed" unless it's meant as verb, but even then, strange choice of word...
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