The first publications in the new Collins Primary English programme are for four to seven-year-olds. Like other new programmes, this one claims to be "complete" in that it addresses all the details of the England and Wales national curriculum and English 5-14 for Scotland.
Two forces are at work in this collection of materials. On the one hand the authors attempt to integrate talking and listening and reading and writing into a coherent whole, using activities which involve all four language modes; on the other, each discrete skill must be included, largely through photocopiable worksheets, of which there are more than 100 in each Teacher's Resource Book.
Copymasters are very common in primary English programmes, perhaps because many teachers feel understandably daunted by the range of skills which need to be developed in the early years of schooling and nervous that they might omit something important. While the authors recommend that the materials be targeted selectively to the needs of individual children, they could become a long series of exercises, some imaginative, others more pedestrian, which unfortunate classes are asked to plough through. We still desperately need evidence that exercises carry over into children's general literacy.
On a more positive note, the major resource at the first stage, the Big Book, could be very useful indeed. It comes attached to a solid board stand with acetate sheets for teachers and children to write over the pictures, which are bright and busy.
Though the Big Book includes some simple stories, the authors make links in the Teacher's Resource Book with several quality picture storybooks to be found on the shelves of most classrooms. Some of these stories and poems are also read aloud on the cassettes that accompany the programme - another good idea. Tape-recorded stories offer children the possibility of endless repetitions of their favourites, especially if headsets are available.
The three pupil's books in English 2 are very variable; they try to do too much. There are good stories and poems which reach out to the wider world of children's literature, but sometimes they are tied to teaching writing conventions such as the full stop, while the attractively illustrated reading-for-information sections tend to have tedious comprehension exercises attached. These three books link to units of work in the Teacher's Resource Book 2 and cassette, which contain some interesting and enjoyable ideas.
For the materials as a whole the idea of complete "coverage" may be a selling point, but the real value of a programme of this sort lies in the options it offers teachers. If used to integrate language activities as part of the whole continuing curriculum, as a source of ideas among other possibilities for language in the classroom, then the programme could be useful and effective. But as a checklist for skills which are expected to be acquired in small units rather than developed in meaningful ways over fuller and richer language experiences, then its value is more limited, and the intended "coverage" illusory.