Ofqual: Review into exam textbooks published

From Ofqual:

Textbooks linked to qualifications are too focused on exam preparation at the cost of subject content, according to new research by Ofqual.

The exams regulator has published its initial findings and action plan into potential conflicts of interest between qualification providers and study aids produced or endorsed by them such as textbooks.

While the report suggests there is only limited evidence that textbooks are having a negative impact on the standards of qualifications, researchers did find evidence supporting concerns about the overall quality of textbooks as learning resources.

Ofqual’s report, entitled Textbooks: Risks and Opportunities, states that “a rather formulaic approach, influenced by current endorsement processes, is resulting in textbooks that are over focused on exam preparation at the cost of subject content and signposting to wider and more in-depth reading.”

Tim Leslie, Ofqual’s Director of Risks and Markets, said: “We want to explore further whether endorsement processes can be improved to drive up the quality of learning resources available to teachers”.

Ofqual’s initial research has also triggered further work which is designed to prevent any activities which could undermine confidence in the exam system.

The research highlights particular concerns about the links between publishing and qualification awarding bodies. Pearson has both publishing and awarding interests. Ofqual is launching a review of Pearson’s publishing and awarding activities, which will focus on the effectiveness of the “business separation” between the awarding organisation and its publishing arm.

The report highlights concern that exam-endorsed textbooks are sometimes written by chief examiners. Ofqual found that breaches in confidentiality of exam questions are very rare. However as part of its wider review, Ofqual will set out what role examiners should have in writing textbooks while they are employed as examiners.

Tim Leslie said: “The research has highlighted a lack of agreement about what a ‘good’ textbook looks like. As part of further work in this area we are looking to establish new guidelines.”

Download the report, Textbooks: Risks and Opportunities

A few quotes from the report which mention mathematics:

Particular concerns were raised by a number of expert groups and subject organisations about the negative impact of exam-driven teaching on the development of skills in maths, for example. They suggest that, as a result, some key elements in the way maths skills should be developed are missing or given lower significance in the curriculum and supporting textbooks in England, when compared with other countries: “English textbooks are more routine and involve less variation than those of many other countries. In England, procedural fluency and conceptual understanding are largely seen as mutually exclusive aims. This polarising of procedural and conceptual is not helpful. Pacific Rim teaching is largely dominated by procedures and hence supportive of procedural fluency, but the procedures used tend to be explicitly grounded in mathematical principles and consequently more mathematically coherent and meaningful than those most commonly used in the United Kingdom. In the Pacific Rim, mathematically informed procedural teaching is introduced and promoted through carefully constructed textbooks.”  […]

“[…] publishers […] appear no longer interested in publishing serious mathematics textbooks which seek to present elementary mathematics in a way that is independent of any particular syllabus.”


Other specific issues raised by teachers in surveys for the Host (2012) report were: […]

  • Targeting of minimum requirements in resources for C grade at the expense of breadth in learning.
  • That mathematics and sciences need complex and varied examples or questions – but that these were very limited in textbooks.



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