Cheap and cheerful;Secondary;Reviews;General
SCIENCE. By Terry Hudson
MATHEMATICS. By Alan Smith
Ian Wilson looks at some cut-price textbooks for key stage 3
A recent survey by the Educational Publishers' Council showed that spending on textbooks has declined in real terms and that schools are unable to provide books at a reasonable level. This is, of course, not a new situation, but it is depressing to see it continuing. If pupils have to share books, or if they cannot take a textbook home to do their homework or to revise, what message are they receiving about the value of the subject?
Letts have made a bold attempt to put books within the reach of all pupils. The classbooks are designed to cover all the key stage 3 material in the core subjects and are currently on special offer at pound;3.
The English book is clear and well laid-out, with each area, such as writing and word building, distinguished by coloured headings. The illustrations are colourful and well chosen, ranging from recent advertisements to stars like actress Michelle Pfeiffer and footballer Ian Wright.
Written sources cover a wide variety of styles and periods. For example, there is an interesting topic based on accounts of visits to Salisbury by Daniel Defoe, William Cobbett and Bill Bryson.
Each unit helpfully starts with a summary of its contents, and there are many useful exercises (especially on word-building, although I must disagree with astrology being defined as the study of the stars). However, the units seem rather short, even allowing for the time which will be spent on reading other material.
The sections on grammar (here called "learning about language") start off well, but by the end of the book are covering concepts like the mood and voice of verbs far too quickly.
The Science book aims to strike a balance between a textbook and a home study guide. However, it does not really qualify as a textbook because it contains only basic practical activities that can be carried out at home, and it is too long for a revision guide.
As a resource book to sit alongside an existing scheme it is adequate. Each topic, in the form of a double-page spread, has very useful "Key Words" and "Summary" boxes.
The summary activities are rather variable in quality, but some could be used for homework tasks. All terms are helpfully in bold type and at the end of the book there are tables, formulae and a glossary.
The reading age is quite high, and only more able Year 7 and 8 pupils would benefit from the book. There is also no differentiation of material, and it would have been better if, say, the left-hand page of a spread had been used for basic material, with the more advanced content on the facing page. More questions could have been provided - there are sometimes as few as three on a major topic.
The Mathematics text is disappointing. It attempts to cover too much material in too few pages. As a result, it resembles a collection of recipes or tricks for solving abstract problems rather than a course that will help pupils to understand, develop and apply concepts.
For example, pupils are told that "when you subtract anegative number, the result is a number further to the right". True, but there is no work which leads to this conclusion, no attempt to link this idea to others which the pupil has acquired. This book does not compete with existing schemes, and would be of very limited use alongside them.
Ian Wilson is head of Woodcote High School, Croydon