Cash-strapped post-16 education providers and students alike can now benefit from an expanded collection of free digital text books aimed at those retaking English language and maths GCSEs.

Another 15 ebooks have been added to the initial 23 titles that went onstream in September 2016. The collection, which covers all five of the main exam boards (AQA, SQA, OCR, Pearson Edexcel, WJEA) and includes practice and revision books, was procured by the UK education sector’s technology not-for-profit, Jisc.

 Signing up for the collection is free for members of Jisc, which calculates that each full book downloaded represents a saving of £20. At a time when compulsory resits in these subjects after the age of 16 are predicted to rise considerably, the potential savings could be significant. Jisc has also calculated that the college which has downloaded the most ebooks over the past year would have had to fork out £32,000 in buying the equivalent number of physical books.

From September 2013, it became mandatory for pupils failing to achieve a grade C or better in English language and maths (grade 4 in the new GCSE grading system) to continue studying until they do, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first.

The Government introduced this controversial measure to better equip young people for the workplace, but it placed a huge burden on post-16 education providers, both in terms of employing extra teachers and buying curriculum-matched text books. Providing content and recruiting suitable teachers was, and remains, a big problem.

Jisc’s head of digital content services for further education and skills, Karla Youngs, is adamant that “every college needs this service”. She explains: “Four years ago, colleges faced a difficult choice: either pay for resources that are mapped to the relevant exam boards and the curriculum, which would result in savings having to be made elsewhere, or access free resources not designed for traditionally taught courses, and therefore not quite fit-for-purpose.

“As of September 2016, a third, no-cost choice became available to Jisc members. A year later, and a complete collection of 38 books, which covers all five of the main exam boards, is available through our e-books for FE service, which teachers and learners from subscribing colleges can use for free.

“While nothing can replace excellent English and maths teaching, opening up access to these digital resources will go a long way in plugging the gap. Teachers can use the ebooks in the classroom or virtual learning environment and learners can access the content on their own devices, wherever and whenever they want. Being able to study at a time and place that’s convenient is particularly important for English and maths resit students, who often have to take these subjects alongside their chosen full-time courses.

“This free resource also means that students will not have to rely on the right text books being available in the library at the right time – they can simply log in online, or download a page or a chapter at a time.

“Colleges don’t even need to worry about updating with new versions since this happens automatically.”

Post-16 providers that want to find out more should  go to the e-books for FE webpage to sign up.

About Jisc: Jisc is the UK higher, further education and skills sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions.  They operate shared digital infrastructure and services, negotiate sector-wide deals with IT vendors and commercial publishers and provide trusted advice and practical assistance for universities, colleges and learning providers.

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