Pearson: No plans to phase out print textbooks in UK (yet)

Education publisher Pearson has insisted there are currently “no specific plans” to phase out print textbooks in the UK, but stopped short of confirming that it may not do so in the future.

News that Pearson planned to become “digital first” caused consternation when it was reported by the BBC this week, with plans to make pupils rent physical textbooks in the hope that more will subscribe to e-textbooks.

Concerns were raised about the financial impact of removing textbooks that can be easily borrowed, recycled or re-sold, as well as potential problems arising from technological issues and the lack of choice created.

However, a spokesperson for Pearson said the plans are focused on higher education in America, and insisted there were “no specific plans at the moment to move to a digital-first model in the UK”.

“In time we will look at other markets around the world, but for now the focus is on US college publishing,” he said.

Rob Bristow, president of Pearson UK, said the term ‘digital first’ reflects “a new approach to content development and production” in terms of creating “more accessible, more affordable resources that integrate with other online assessment and learning activities”.

“We will continue to make printed textbook resources available in the US, UK and other countries for as long as students and teachers demand them, with our deep seated appreciation of the value of printed textbooks in learning.”

The government’s teacher snapshot survey for winter 2018, released on Wednesday, revealed 87 per cent of secondary teachers used digital resources for the majority of lessons.

Textbooks were the second most commonly used resource, and used in most lessons by one in five teachers.

Just six per cent used e-books, making them the least common resource.

Schools minister Nick Gibb is known for favouring textbooks. In a speech in December 2017 he said that one of the “key lessons” taken form the success of pupils in Far East countries was the “importance of textbooks”.

He also praised the recent resurgence of “knowledge-rich” textbooks, adding “ideological hostility” had driven a decline in their use in the 1970s.

Tim Oates, group director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment, warned against removing physical textbooks from classrooms and said research shows that reading and learning from a screen “is not the same as with paper materials”.

He said mixing textbooks, practice books and accompanying online enrichment and assessment is “driving improvement” in some areas.

“Different media have different assets for learning. Lose a distinctive form of media, you lose some distinctive assets.”