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Ahead of the pack

HEADWORK ENGLISH PROGRAMME 4. By Chris Culshaw and Jill Dodgson. Oxford University Press. Student's Book 4. #163;7. Skills Book 4 #163;2.75. Teacher's Book 4 #163;12.50

Established as an English course for students at the lower levels of key stage 3, Headwork English now includes this GCSE package for pupils preparing for the foundation tier exam. It has three discrete, but interacting components, separately created for teacher and taught, not some twilight person in between, a fundamental weakness of many course books.

The student's book (112 pages) is a model of a respectful student-directed text, in tone, themes, and stimulus material. Its 10 thematic units have more strengths than weaknesses of this conventional structure. For example, the freshness of the text selection compensates for the likely repetition, by key stage 4, of such topics as violence - explored here through Lawrence, the Guardian, Oliver Stone and Lotte Moos, among others. Elsewhere, the subjects of charity, car safety, and climatic devastation no longer seem arbitrary choices following recent events in Paris and Montserrat.

The 48 texts cross the genres, including those from other periods and cultures. Giants of the past (King Lear, "The Ancient Mariner") mingle with the recent (Shirley Valentine, Steptoe and Son) and the immediate (Bjork and the Citro n Xantia).

Follow-on activities cover the programmes of study relevant to those working at levels 4-7 and reflect external exam-style questions. The photos, illustrations, colour and layout show OUP at its professional best.

The skills book (48 pages) contains additional texts (yet another outing for "Fog everywhere . . .") and practice. Skills such as the use of punctuation are tackled head-on and then in creative contexts. The format is write-in workbook, which, with the self-assessment grid, constitutes a record of achievement, of sorts. Pukka of its type, but not to my taste - oh, and non-photocopiable.

If nothing will come of nothing, the teacher's book (120 pages) proves the reverse. The quality of the student's books is reflected in the depth of the teacher's resources. Lesson notes, extension activities, photocopiable materials, national curriculum summary grids, students' responses with examiners' comments - they're all here. The ideas for developing English through IT should satisfy the buff and delight the phobe.

Set aside the coursebook debate. If you favour a readimix menu, entire or partial, try Headwork 4.

Brian Slough is a former headteacher of Kettering School for Boys, Northamptonshire

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