Change for the betterSecondary

30th January 1998 at 00:00
GCSE ENGLISH: A complete course. Susan Davies, with contributions by Ken Elliott and Roy Hopwood. Heinemann Pounds 9.99.

GET IT RIGHT! Writing, spelling and punctuation for GCSE. John Seely, David Kitchen,Clare Constant, Ken Elliott. Heinemann Pounds 5.99.

EXAM PRACTICE FOR GCSE ENGLISH 2. Andrew Bennett and Malcolm J White. Heinemann Pounds 29.95.

GCSE ENGLISH IN A YEAR. Peter Turner. Hodder Stoughton Pounds 9.99.

How, in so few years, the whole culture of GCSE English has changed. The demands (questionable, I still feel) of tiered papers, the downgrading of coursework and the increased formal demands on linguistic accuracy have meant a sea change in the nature of published resources.

It says much for publishers and writers that every one of this crop of GCSE books works within its parameters very well. Each has a specific purpose; each involves every sort of classroom organisation; each takes students into its confidence and treats them as mature, discriminating learners; each regards teachers as fellow practitioners able to use resources critically and for their own situations.

Susan Davies's complete course has nine units: unit 1 is for speaking and listening, 2 and 3 for personal writing and writing for audience and purpose, 4 and 5 for reading and responding to examination texts, 6, 7 and 8 for literature course work and 9 for formal writing skills, with a short checklist at the end. Each unit has a useful postscript: an examiner advises. The selection of texts is enterprising.

Sheenagh Pugh's "Earth Studies" sequence will impress the power of poetry on any students, especially when juxtaposed with Blake. I was also struck by Laurie Lee's article on Aberfan and Susan Davies's own note, as one who lived near at the time of the disaster. This in itself demonstrates language's resonance.

Get it Right! does exactly what it says. It is cast as a dialogue between student and examiner - and frequently asks the student to act as examiner. The feeling throughout of guide and apprentice setting off on a task together is quite beguiling. The layout is clear and logical and the organisation of writing comes before its formalities. A most useful book to have around and give to students individually as well as for classroom use. As are the photocopiable sheets in Exam Practice 2: carefully calibrated for the 1998 syllabuses of every exam board.

All these publications reflect current exam practice: the first-time examinee should have no nasty surprises in store. For the student resitting GCSE or the mature entrant trying to get through a lot in a short time, the problem is different. Peter Turner's GCSE English in a Year deals with all the examination requirements and gives a worthwhile language experience at the same time.

Twentieth-century fiction is represented by Daphne du Maurier's The Birds, pre-20th by Thomas Hardy's On the Western Circuit, other cultures by Nadine Gordimer's Is There Nowhere Else We Can Meet? - but all are stories which should make the reader want more. This book is worth having for any GCSE purpose, not just the one for which it was written.

Dennis Hamley is a former English adviser for Hertfordshire

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