The prevalence and use of textbooks and curriculum resources in primary maths

Project Details


Following longstanding concerns about mathematics attainment and drawing on evidence from international comparisons of teaching practices in high-performing jurisdictions, the Department for Education (DfE) invested substantial funding from 2016 – instigated through the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and its Maths Hubs – in providing primary schools in England with support to purchase DfE-approved textbook-schemes for teaching mathematics. This was a bold and interesting move.

Textbook use has been somewhat controversial in primary mathematics in England, with textbooks tending to take a marginal role rather than being the main basis for instruction. Primary teachers have traditionally curated curriculum resources from a range of places. While there has been some concern about the quality of some resources, there has been little focus on developing high quality primary mathematics textbooks. Previously available textbooks were assessed as unstructured, simple, and routine, with a focus on repetition of procedures rather than application and investigation.

Concerns have been such that the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) in its earlier inspections suggested teachers were over-reliant on such textbooks. The DfE initiative to bring textbook-schemes into schools represents a substantial change, organisationally, culturally, and pedagogically, from what was happening in many primary schools. With no recent research to help us understand how such textbook-schemes might be received in England, or the broader landscape of teachers’ mathematics curriculum resource choices into which they are being parachuted, the DfE initiative raised many questions.

This project involved the use of a large-scale quantitative survey to comprehensively map the prevalence and use of textbooks and curriculum resources as tools to structure and deliver primary mathematics teaching across England. The multi-survey approach addressed school and teacher level differences in systematically analysing where, why and how, schools use different curriculum resources. It also identified the relative influence of multiple factors, including funding, on adopted teaching approaches.

Key findings

The project focused on teaching and learning in primary mathematics (5–11-year-olds) in England and proved an important study. While the DfE had ear-marked match-funding to schools to buy in ‘approved’ textbooks, little was known about the impact of this on choices made ‘on the ground’ nor was there a comprehensive picture of the landscape of resource use. This limited the scope for evidence-driven pedagogy and policy.

The research sought to positively influence policy decisions, informing future funding models and training provision related to textbooks. It provided a clear evidence base to support school leaders in making crucial purchasing, training, and school-policy decisions. This could then inform their choice, use, and support for, textbooks and other curriculum resources.

Implications and recommendations
Department of Education
• Consider fewer, full or majority-funded, strategically targeted, funding initiatives.
• Tailor initiatives to ensure accessibility and applicability for smaller schools.
• Extend the Textbook Assessment Criteria to cover a wider range of curriculum resources.

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics
• Establish and support workgroups to critically evaluate the quality of curriculum resources.
• Support schools to match or tailor existing resources to their pedagogic approach.
• Support schools to adapt curriculum materials for mixed-age teaching.

• Further investigate why teachers adapt materials and provide support for this.
• Continue to explore ways to reduce ongoing costs of schemes and permit purchase of part schemes.
• Augment provision of curriculum resources for mixed-age teaching.

School Leaders
• Enable teachers to be involved in decisions about which scheme to adopt and how / when to use it.
• Develop a bank of ‘approved’ resources to tie in with the school’s mathematical approaches.
• Examine teacher workload involved in curating, creating, and adapting curriculum resources.

• Deepen understanding of uptake and attrition patterns in the DfE textbook-funding, to enhance the implementation of future initiatives.
• Develop a taxonomy of quality to assess and assure current and future educational resources.
• Ensure future research is inclusive of smaller and rural schools and those with mixed-age teaching.

Effective start/end date1/09/2128/03/23


  • Nuffield Foundation


  • Primary Mathematics
  • Curriculum resources
  • Teaching and learning
  • Textbooks
  • Schemes
  • Survey


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