Costly mistakes;Primary;Reviews;Classics;Books

24th September 1999 at 01:00
FOCUS ENGLISH. Year 3 Evaluation Pack pound;55. Year 5 Evaluation Pack pound;58. Teachers' Anthologies pound;25.95. Heinemann

There is a "government-approved" feel to Heinemann's Focus English materials. Unit 5 Year 3 is identical to the reading paper used in this year's Year 4 English test and Pie Corbett, a member of the writing team, has featured in the literacy hour training videos. The Year 5 materials have been available for a while and although the same team is credited on the more recent Year 3 materials, I can't help feeling some key members played a lesser role. Or maybe tiredness has set in. There is less to be excited about.

At Year 5 there are five double-length units, during which story extracts or poems are given prolonged study. For example, "The Highwayman" is read in two parts. The Year 3 materials have only one such double unit. If the premise was that younger children are not ready for extending work over a period of time, it was mistaken.

The questions in each unit remain mercifully restrained in number, and reasonably open-ended. But some are clumsily worded and a few are grammatically flawed. In Unit 9 Year 3, pupils are asked "Which poem do you like better and why?" That ought to read "Which poem do you prefer and why?" Or, at a push, "like more". The "better" risks insinuating extraneous and inappropriate notions of critical judgment. In Unit 18 a question in the anthology reads "Find clues that shows the poem comes from another country." How could the error in subject-verb correspondence escape the proof-readers?

The annotations in the Teacher's Anthologies will help the most inexperienced and insecure, but others will feel patronised. To teach the whole of key stage 2 with the full range of Focus English would cost any school a lot of money. There are too many flaws to make that money well-spent.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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