Key stage 2
SUCCESS IN MATHS. Books 1-4 Mental Maths Test Booster. By Jacqueline Prendergast, Garry Prendergast, Rowena Onions and Chris Onions
SUCCESS IN ENGLISH. Books 1-4 Spelling and Grammar Test Booster. By Stuart Bell, Barry Scholes and Anita Scholes Collins pound;4.99 each
When you see the daffodils and get stuck behind the first caravans of spring, the "give your children a leg up in the national tests" books can't be far away. There are a lot of them about - this bandwagon is not just rolling, it is burning rubber like an F1 racing car.
Collins has been meticulous in the preparation of its books, which are well-fuelled and likely to stay on track. In the driving seat are authors with impeccable credentials: chief markers for key stage 2 tests, deputy chief markers, lead chief markers (don't ask me to explain the difference) and developers of questions. If these people do not know what the tests are about, then no one does. It is a relief to know that these are books you can have confidence in.
Claiming, with excessive self-belief, to be "the best way for children to prepare for SATs", they are clearly aimed at parents, and include copious details about the timing of questions and the number of marks that can be earned for each.
The Test Booster material looks like the real thing and is equally exciting. If a child can read and understand the "how to tackle the question" instructions, he or she doesn't need to. "By subtracting the y co-ordinate of the bottom vertex from the y co-ordinate for the middle vertex, we can calculate distance b." Quite.
For the rest, they are didactic and fact-driven, but you will go a long way before you find more reliable leg-up material.
SCIENCE EXPLORER KS2 Multimedia science lessons. Letts pound;19.99
REVISE FOR SCIENCE NATIONAL CURRICULUM TESTS (KS2). Interactive software. etts pound;19.99
MATHS EXPLORER KS2. Multimedia maths lessons. Letts pound;19.99
REVISE FOR MATHS NATIONAL CURRICULUM TESTS (KS2). Interactive software. Letts pound;19.99
This software is aimed at the home market - but only homes with a PC that runs Windows 95 or 98, has a CD-Rom drive, a modern processor, and preferably at least 16MB of RAM.
The Explorer study programs cover Years 3 to 6, but the revision programs are intended for use only during the run-up to the tests themselves in Y6. The material attempts to cover national curriculum key stage 2 maths and science and Scottish 5-14 level B-D.
Once you have installed the Explorer programs and got past the over-elaborate introductory blurb, you will find yourself in a strange set-up that seems to be inspired by the Millennium Dome. A central zone leads to other areas where you can test yourself, gain information, do puzzles and so on. How comfortable you feel wending your way through this contrived environment depends a lot on your patience and enthusiasm for this sort of approach, but it is all very clever.
Scratch the surface, though, and you realise that this is just another set of study aids, albeit one in high-tech packaging. In both science and maths, the technology can be a distraction (I got so tied up with the mechanics of a percentages animation that it took me four attempts to get the answer right), and these programs are, in the end, focused on instruction rather than learning. A tomato-growing experiment on a computer screen is a considerable step away from the real thing.
If these programs generate more interest than frustration, they will be a worthwhile purchase, but the revision programs are the better buy.
Paul Noble is headteacher of St Andrew's primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire Excerpts from Collins and Letts Educational home study and revision materials can be downloaded from the learnfree website: www.learnfree.co.uk