Quality of school books hit by changes

Constant tweaking of maths syllabus mean textbooks are 'less coherent' than in Asia
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Constant changes to the national curriculum have left school textbooks floundering in their wake, according to a major international study of maths performance published today.

The authors of the report single out a deterioration in the quality of textbooks as the key factor for England lagging behind the top performers in international league tables.

"Countries that perform consistently well in maths use carefully constructed textbooks as the primary means of teaching," says the study by academics at King's College London.

"By comparison, use of textbooks in English schools is relatively low and English textbooks use routine examples and are less mathematically coherent than those in other countries. Pupils in high-performing countries (such as China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore) are also more likely to use textbooks at home than their English counterparts."

The authors, Professor Mike Askew and Dr Jeremy Hogden, argue: "Over the past 20 years the educational system in England has been subject to frequent reform and review. One consequence of this has been to limit the time available for the development and trialling of textbooks with publishers competing to produce textbooks quickly. This has led to a reduction in the quality of textbooks." In a separate study of books used in English, French and German schools, the English textbooks were found to be "less coherent".

The report also comes to the conclusion that children do not have to enjoy maths to do well at it."There is no link between achievement and enjoyment in maths education," it says. "High-performing countries are as concerned over pupils' dislike of mathematics as we are in England." One factor in the success of eastern countries could be the fact that in China, for instance, parents have to buy their children's textbooks. "That may influence expectations," the report's authors argue. "Colleagues in China have expressed surprise that in England textbooks are provided by the state and the lack of expectation that pupils would do extra work from textbooks at home."

One of the most respected international studies into maths standards, known as Timms, places England seventh in the world in the tests for 14-year-olds. In the other respected international maths standards study, Pisa, 18 countries outperformed England.

It explains the Asian pupils' success in maths by concluding: "Pupils in these countries may be less interested in the mathematics itself and more in the status afforded by exam success. Success within such exam-oriented systems requires effort and any pleasure is as a result of the success attained rather than derived through the processes of learning per se."