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Are textbooks the answer? And if so, what is the question?

7:00pm, Monday 11 July 2016, Art Workers Guild, 6 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AT

Tim Oates, director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment recently launched the Cambridge Approach to Textbooks, a set of principles and criteria for publishers of textbooks.

The aim is to “create a new generation of clear, well-structured materials which combine carefully key features and ‘information elements’: pre-assessment, intense focus on core concepts, exemplification and worked examples, practice activities, review and reflection on learning”.

The aim is for textbooks to provide the detailed knowledge which is only implicit in the National Curriculum’s broad programmes of study. The idea of textbooks that provide the detailed knowledge teachers need to do their job sound like an attractive, and much needed, initiative.  Many parents will be pleased at the thought of no more tattered worksheets found languishing at the bottom of schoolbags.  And maybe many teachers will find their lives made easier if they are able to refer to a bank of teacher version text books and supporting materials rather than having to scour the internet for suitable resources, especially with the new primary Maths curriculum and KS 1 and 2 tests.

The Cambridge Approach to Textbooks is informed largely by comparative research to see what works in other high performance jurisdictions.  In Singapore, for example, teachers use textbooks to help them plan and sequence course content.  In Britain, the question of textbooks, especially for Mathematics, has become the focus of attention amongst professional bodies such as the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and publishers of, for example, the textbooks Maths No Problem. But there are important questions glossed over in the discussion of textbooks as it stands. Firstly, can any textbook, however good, really provide the knowledge that is implicit in the curriculum? Is there a danger of reinforcing a prior degraded view of knowledge as all that can be objectified, whether in a textbook, webpage or worksheet?  And furthermore, if textbooks are to provide the knowledge, then what are teachers to do?  Continue in their already overly technical role as “deliverers” of better organised and presented information? On the other hand, it could be argued that textbooks could form a basis for the kind of professional discussion amongst teachers that could help create a more intellectual professional culture.  A good thing surely?

This month’s Education Forum is delighted to welcome Tim Oates as one of our speakers. He will be in dialogue with David Perks, head of the East London Science School, who will also introduce his own original and innovative take on textbooks. As both a specialist in physics, and an experienced educator, David has written on the curriculum and contributed to government curriculum reviews.  As head of a school whose founding ethos is a commitment to a liberal, subject-based education for all, David supports the idea that teachers need to take ownership of their subject to become autonomous professionals and suggests that a textbook can only be as good as the teacher that uses it.

Listen to the opening remarks


Tim Oates
director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment

David Perks
prinicpal, East London Science School

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