Opening a two-part focus on revision guides, Diana Hinds talks to one of the architects of the BBC's Bitesize series
Revision aids for pupils preparing for national curriculum tests and public examinations are big business. In the children's department of any bookshop, generous shelf space is being given to workbooks and revision guides for all age groups in a range of subjects.
So it should come as no surprise that the BBC is following its popular GCSE Bitesize Revision multimedia series with Bitesize Revision titles for 13 and 14-year-olds preparing for the key stage 3 tests next month and a ReviseWise series for key stage 2 pupils also preparing for national tests next month.
Like the GCSE Bitesize series, the key stage 2 and 3 materials come not only in books, but on television, CD-Roms and the Internet, and are intended for use at school and home. A million free copies of the accompanying Parent Guide to Revision have gone to 65 per cent of primary schools since its launch in January; 40 per cent of secondary schools have ordered a total of 600,000 copies. At the end of February, rather more surprisingly, ReviseWise English and ReviseWise Maths had reached the top 15 in the paperback non-fiction bestseller lists.
The concentrated attention of parents and schools on revision and the accompanying stream of publications did not exist 25 years ago when I did my O-levels. My revision consisted mainly of shutting myself in my bedroom, writing abbreviated notes and lists and trying to memorise them. Revision books for O and A-levels began to appear 20 years ago, and national curriculum tests have boosted their popularity.
"I think it's taken for granted now that children will do structured revision," says Julie Cogill, head of education policy at the BBC. A former secondary maths teacher, she has worked on all three revision series.
No one envisaged a revision industry of this kind when the national tests appeared. But a Labour government chasing ambitious targets for 2002 is unlikely to call a halt to this form of assessment. Nobody could quibble about the necessity of emphasising revision at GCSE level and perhaps it's no bad thing at key stage 3. But some might at least raise an eyebrow at the notion that 10 and 11-year-olds should also be getting down to it.
"We have thought very carefully about this," says Ms Cogill "The last thing we wanted to do was put pressure on children." Revision guides for seven-year-olds will not appear, she insists, "because we think the key stage 1 tests should be part of the child's normal day".
But at key stage 2, she argues, structured help with revision can give children more confidence about what they know, as well as giving them some idea what to expect on the day of the test. "ReviseWise provides support for children, which allows them to consolidate their knowledge across the whole of the key stage. Four years is a long time at 11, and they won't necessarily remember concepts they learned at seven."
There is a danger, of course, that parents can become over-zealous and push their children towards workbooks and revision aids. The BBC resources are intended - particularly at key stage 2 - for parents and children to share, and include activities and experiments that can be done at home. They are also intended to give parents the basis for a dialogue with the school about areas where the child needs some extra practice.
Acquiring the revision habit from a relatively young age will pay dividends later, Ms Cogill argues. "It underlines the importance of independent learning and taking responsibility for your work, which is a part of lifelong learning." The websites, she points out, offer quick responses to practice questions for the 30 per cent of families with access at home.
The key stage 3 Bitesize Revision books seem fairly hefty, but again, she says, the idea is not for students to slog through every page, but to select the topics they need practice in, and combine, say, 15 minutes of the relevant television material (available on video) with 45 minutes working from the book.
"I hope children who use these resources will feel good about the revision and confident about the tests. Revising should also give them a feeling for the wholeness of the subject - you start to pull all your knowledge together and make connections between separate parts of the subject, which starts to make you like it."
KS3 Bitesize books in English, maths and science pound;4.50 each. ReviseWise photcopiable activity books pound;19.99 each and pupil books 99p each, both in English, maths and science. KS3 Bitesize and ReviseWise videos and CD-Roms in all three subjects, pound;9.99 each. www.bbc.co.ukrevision Order on 08459 323130