Truss’s textbook quotes not wholly accurate - Minister relied on partial interpretation of TIMSS tables

Janet Downs's picture
There’s a link between high test scores and textbook use, claimed schools minister Elizabeth Truss but, as pointed out earlier, in the Trends in Maths and Science Survey 2011 (TIMSS) England outperformed the majority of countries praised by Truss for their heavy textbook use.

The Government constantly says its reforms are evidence-based. This site regularly refutes that claim. However, now that I’ve eventually found the source of the figures used by Truss in her obituary for the textbook, I can confirm the figures she used were correct – up to a point.

The data confirmed Truss’s figures: only 10% of teachers of 10 year-olds in England used textbooks as the basis for maths instruction. At age 14, only 8% of science teachers based their teaching on textbooks.

However, Truss forgot to look carefully at the table because it contained another set of figures: the percentage of teachers who used textbooks to supplement their lessons. If the figures for “basis” and “supplement” are added together then 74% of teachers of ten-year olds used textbooks for teaching maths and 86% of science teachers used textbooks with 14 year-olds.

This is still lower than overall textbook use in the countries cited by Truss but it’s a long way from Truss’s assertion that teachers in England don’t use textbooks. Instead, she said they used tatty worksheets.

But workbooks and worksheets are not used as much in England as they are in the countries praised by Truss. 89% of teachers in England reported using workbooks and worksheets for teaching maths to 10 year-olds either as basis for instruction (11%) or as a supplement (78%). In Sweden it was 95%. In Germany and Korea, the only country cited by Truss which actually outperformed English 10 year-olds in TIMSS maths, 99% of teachers used workbooks/sheets. In Poland, 100% of teachers reported using them.

The number of teachers using workbooks/sheets to teach Science to 14 year-olds was more-or-less the same in the countries cited by Truss. 97% of teachers in England reported their use as did teachers in Chinese Taipei. 93% of Korean teachers used them and 100% of teachers in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

It appears, then, it was premature of Truss to announce the death of the textbook in England.

And it should be remembered that TIMSS still ranks England among the top ten countries for primary maths. The performance of 14 year-olds in TIMSS science remains high although their position has fallen since 2007 when they were top of the European league at ages 10 and 14. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 found English (UK) pupils scored above the average in Science as they did in PISA 2009.

Elizabeth Truss is a vocal champion of curriculum reform particularly of maths. But maths requires the ability to interpret data correctly. Ms Truss has demonstrated her inability to do this. Perhaps her ideas on curriculum reform should be rejected as firmly as her analysis of statistics.


The table for resources used in teaching maths to ten year-olds is available here (Exhibit 8.26).

The table for resources used in teaching science to 14 year-olds is available here (Exhibit 8.26)
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