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LONGMAN HOMEWORK HANDBOOK: Key Stage 3 English By Alan Gardiner Longman Pounds 7.99

This book aims to provide key stage 3 pupils with "information and advice which should be useful when they are studying and working at home". Sensibly, therefore, it begins with suggestions about the why, where, when, and how of homework. The entries ("terms and topics relevant to KS3") follow alphabetically, from "abbreviation" to "Yeats", cross-referenced encyclopedia-style.

In part, that is what it is. While there are no Z's, for Zachariah, zeugma, or anything else, there are some trivial pursuits: the only entry under "u" is a definition of upper case letters. Much of the information, however, is undeniably useful, not only to students but the supportive parent. For example, there is a convenient checkpoint for punctuation and technical terms (though I doubt the value of decontextualised exercises). Advice on such matters as brainstorming and drafting is covered in exemplary coursebook fashion. Reminder, or not, it stands repetition.

National curriculum assessments influence the content of many entries, not least their length. Those on Shakespeare involve 44 of the book's 154 pages, with particular attention to Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and the Dream. Specimen test papers and answers follow prescriptive material in the style of many commercial "study guides". Love it or hate it? Depends how you view key stage 3 Shakespeare, external testing, and the use made of it.

Similarly, the entry for Reading begins: "The main aim of one of the national curriculum test papers is to assess your reading skills." Specimen questions, answers, and advice on tackling them are provided.

I won't rehearse stale arguments about this approach, nor "listed" authors. Suffice to say, there are 52 potted biographies - from Chaucer to Heaney via Milton and Eliot - and many 11 to 14-year-olds will be baffled by the absence of their favourites. Perhaps the handbook's contentious entries reflect the darker side of the national curriculum and its inevitable by-products.

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