15th September 2000 at 01:00
AN INTRODUCTION TO POLITICS. By Peter Joyce. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;15.99.

What is the future for the core textbook? Here we have a massive tome of 600 pages which attempts to cover all the topics needed by A-level students. Is there still a place for books such as this?

The main drawback is that they get overtaken by events. There is a lot of history, but do today's students really need 10 pages on the SDP, which expired a decade ago, or a discussion of the role of the ex-government minister, Jack Cunningham? And there is nothing on the latest reform of the House of Lords, or of the effects of devolution.

The needs of students have changed as well. First-year AS courses will be less intellectu-ally demanding than A-level, so that the level adopted by this author, whose background is university rather than school, is likely to be too advanced in language and concept. As early as page seven, students are expected to "undertake your own study of political systems, comparing a liberal democracy with an alternative under the headings Formal Structure, People Power ad Liberty". Very demanding for students not long out of GCSE.

On the other hand, courses in the second year (A2) are intended to be more demanding than the present A-level, and it is here that this book may prove valuable. Peter Joyce is most successful on those topics where there has been relatively little change, even if some are grouped as "Contemporary Political Issues"; many of them occur in A2 specifications. The coverage is good on the police, local issues and the changing role of the state, including welfare. The chapter on politically motivated violence deals effectively with "direct action" and Northern Ireland. The difficult issues of racism, sexual inequality and the neglected topic of the Ombudsman are tackled in a way which many teachers and students will welcome.

I suspect that in futureA-level teaching will be based on a combination of simple core texts, topics and reference books. In spite of its shortcomings, there is enough in this book to guarantee a place on the bookshelves as a valuable reference source for A2 topics.

Frank Conley

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