Make the grade

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
EXAMINING RELIGIONS. Foundation Editions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. By Anne Geldart. Heinemann pound;10.99 each

GCSE RE FOR YOU: Christianity. By Anne Jordan. Stanley Thornes pound;9.50

THINKING THROUGH RELIGION. By Chris Wright, Carrie Mercer, Richard Bromley and David Worden. Oxford University Press. Student's Book pound;10. Teacher's Resource. File pound;30

The uptake for GCSE short course religious studies continues to increase. Some schools now have whole year groups routinely entered for the course, which is very good news for key stage 4 RE, while in other schools healthy option groups exist in the full course GCSE. Those schools with no RE exam option on offer need to catch up quickly with their student entitlement.

For pupils in the lower part of the ability range, potential GCSE grades D to G, there is not a lot of published material for full or short course RE, and valuable teacher time can be lost adapting standard textbooks.

Anne Geldart's books are foundation texts for the D to G group, simplified versions of the well-established Heinemann series Examining Religions. The pagination is identical and the foundation books can be used alongside the core texts or independently. There is still a rather daunting amount of written text, although too much is better than too little.

The Islam book provides the best balance of text and pictures and looks more pupil friendly. The Christian book is confused about the United Reformed Church, spelled wrongly in two out of six references, and its structure and furniture are described inaccurately (pages 87 and 127 conflict). The Jewish book needs more unwrapping for D to G pupils: "What do 'centrist' and 'right wing' Orthodoxy mean?" is a bit stiff as a question, but most questions are not like that.

Visually the overall format in these books is attractive and clear. The pupil in these simplified versions is not patronised.

Anne Jordan in contrast rites for mixed-ability classes. "Who was Jesus?" occupies one side in a book on Christianity. This seems a bit economical in a 112-page book and although Jesus is referred to elsewhere, there is no index. Half the Jesus page is "an early painting" which looks more like a copied medieval illuminated manuscript letter. But there is clear and helpful use of colour and boxes to identify different sorts of activity in the page layout. When biblical texts are used they are quoted in full and plenty of pupil activities are provided.

Several times Fundamentalist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Liberal Christians are mentioned together, all with capital letters, as if they were all Christian denominations. This is confusing.

The authors of Thinking through Religion move from Believing (an outline of the "big six" religions), Questioning (some of the big questions: war, life after death, caring for planet Earth etc) to Acting (religions in action: relationships, wealth and poverty, prejudice, etc).

In practice the second two sections blur, as religions often claim "answers" to what these writers call "questions". But this overlap does not spoil the content. Comments by young people are included, as are some short passages for group reading. Sexuality, including homosexuality, is sensitively handled.

The book contains snippets of eccentric material that pupils so much enjoy and remember, such as the 20-minute vending machine QuickCourt divorce available in one US state. It makes me wonder whether we could reduce Ofsted visits to a 20-minute QuickInspect on the school's website, complete with virtual classroom visits and perhaps virtual teachers armed and ready like Lara Croft to zap problems!

I liked this book, despite its demanding small print, as it was packed with good material. But the D to G pupils would need help.

Terence Copley is Professor of religious education at Exeter University

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