High-quality textbooks won’t work without high-quality textbook reading.

sci text bookLast Thursday (11th June), Nick Gibb delivered a speech titled the social justice case for an academic curriculum. As a science teacher interested in reading, my attention focussed in on the quote below:

“We are working with teachers and publishers to increase the use and availability of high-quality textbooks in schools. Good textbooks provide a structured, well-honed progression through a subject’s content.

…. textbooks are now a rare sight in English classrooms: only 10% of primary maths teachers here use a textbook as the basis for their teaching, compared to 70% in Singapore and 95% in Finland. I have challenged textbook publishers to do better, and am determined that we will secure high-quality resources to underpin an academic curriculum.”

I am convinced that better textbooks are needed. But that is only part of the story: I am also convinced that we need better readers.

In the United States, the Common Core emphasises informational texts (Common Core ELA). There, they have found that teachers are better trained in teaching fiction than nonfiction. The same is true here. In English primary and secondary schools, teachers are trained to teach literature; the resources emphasis fiction and more time is spent teaching fiction. Promoting a love of reading often means promoting a love of reading fiction.

And reading fiction is different to nonfiction. The knowledge and skills a learner uses to read “How electricity travels” are not the ones she uses on “Of Mice and Men.”

To use textbooks more, as Nick Gibb would prefer, we need to do more than produce better texts. We need to be better textbook teachers too.


  1. I feel that in my recent experience, my primary school colleagues and I have focussed considerably more on the teaching of non-fiction – and rightly so, I believe. Sometimes when a colleague complains that a child has a ridiculous plot line in a narrative, I try to offer a little perspective. Not everyone need be a great fiction writer; writing coherent, well-organised non-fiction texts is far more useful. Likewise, being able to extract information as opposed to making a critique of character motivation, etc. I’d be happy to see the return of the textbook. I know that when I was a child, I found them enlightening and indispensable. I feel for pupils in English schools who have to remember and understand without reference to a decent text.


    1. Thank you for commenting Juliet. I agree with you – I still have my favourite textbooks from university. I think about how I was taught to read them – I don’t think I was. Primary teachers are far more aware of teaching non-fiction, but it’s a rare secondary science teacher who knows how to do it. Ben

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The best advice I had from my A level Zoology teacher was that I wouldn’t do very well if I relied only on what was taught in class. I’d have to ‘read around’ the subject and expand my knowledge further. I took it to heart and did well, but it’s a difficult message to get across to contemporary students who believe we need to provide them with everything they need to get good results.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d love to use textbooks more if they actually had more “text” in them. In my subject area, modern languages, a KS3 textbook published in the UK will often devote two pages of glossy pictures to something relatively simple such as the weather. When it comes to introducing a more challenging topic such as the past tense, the paucity of text and exercises for pupils to practice is lamentable

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