Just how closely should textbooks link to public examinations?

Just how closely should textbooks link to public examinations?

Cambridge Assessment's Group Director of Assessment Research & Development, Tim Oates, called for a tightening of the linkage between textbooks and the aims and content of the curriculum and qualifications. However, Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), warned that this would "drive a further wedge between the real pupil engagement and learning which should go on in schools".

As part of its recent inquiry into the running of England's exam system, the Education Select Committee received and reviewed evidence which suggested an unhealthy link between textbooks and examinations.  There were concerns that this is leading to a form of ‘teaching to the test’ which undermines the values of fair and accurate assessment.  Yet international evidence shows that high quality textbooks can actually improve the performance of an education system – but only if the right relationship between textbooks and learning can be secured.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Cambridge Assessment Network in April 2012, Tim explained that:

  • the positioning of textbooks in overall educational policy is a critical part of system management in Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, and Alberta
  • high quality resources are ‘closely coupled’ to the curriculum in Singapore and Hong Kong
  • in England, some of the most important innovations in secondary school programmes of the 1970s and 1980s – such as SMP maths and Nuffield science – were predicated on a very close link between learning materials and examinations.  With knowledge at the heart of the programme, this gave a clear structure around which teachers could design engaging lessons, but did not encourage restrictive teaching.

Tim highlighted the importance of textbooks in improving the performance of the education system; and securing the right relation between textbooks and learning – rather than diminishing the relationship. However, he warned that:

  • any commercial restriction on the development of textbooks should be approached with caution
  • the use of a ‘kite-mark’ would be far more effective in ensuring that poor quality materials (including internet-based materials) are not used.

However, in response to Tim’s presentation, Dr Mary Bousted said: "There is a real danger that our education system moves even closer to a peak of performativity. Close alignment of text books and tests might serve to underpin exam performance; it would also serve to diminish creativity and innovation in teaching. 

"There is every danger that closer linkage of text books and exams would drive a further wedge between the real pupil engagement and learning which should go on in schools, into what happens too often at present – teaching which is driven by test performance and test results. ATL believes that this approach will not raise, but depress educational standards."

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