Books are better

Some years ago, at a Parents’ Evening at my children’s (lavishly funded) secondary school, I listened as the Head boasted about the expansion of their ICT facilities. When he’d finished, I asked if anyone had considered the possibility that the money would be better spent on teachers and books. He looked at me uncomprehendingly — as indeed did most of the audience, who expected better from someone who specialises in ICT.

But my question was — and remains — a valid one. Now comes news of research conducted by one of my academic colleagues at the Open University.

Books are more than twice as effective as computers in raising standards among pupils, says a senior academic who spent 30 years training teachers to use computers. Spending £100 a year on books for each primary school pupil raised test scores by 1.5 per cent while the same amount invested in computer technology was less than half as effective, according to the study by Steve Hurd, a former teacher trainer specialising in computer assisted learning.

Mr Hurd, who now lectures at the Open University, said the results were “significant”. “It is surprising that books matter. Things have gone overboard on ICT (information and communication technology). It is out of kilter. Schools pick up the message that they will be clobbered if their technology is not up to scratch, but no one looks at books.” School inspectors collect data on the provision of computers but have not asked for figures on spending on books since 2003, he said.

Mr Hurd’s research team concluded that the average test scores for English, maths and science would rise by 1.5 per cent in schools spending £100 per pupil on books, a higher than average figure…

Tim O’Shea, a former colleague who has gone on to greater things (he’s now Principal of Edinburgh University) and is a leading expert on computer-assisted learning, used to infuriate conference audiences in the 1980s by saying that “the only piece of educational technology known for sure to work is the school bus”!