Practical reflection

11th September 1998 at 01:00
GCSE CHEMISTRY. By Rose Marie Gallagher and Paul Ingram. Oxford University Press Pounds 12.50.

SCIENCE FOR GCSE: DOUBLE AWARD. By Graham Hill. Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 14.99.

ESSENTIAL SCIENCE FOR GCSE. By Susanne Lakin and John Patefield Nelson Pounds 16.99

SCIENCE FOUNDATIONS SERIES: EXTENSION BIOLOGY. By Bryan Milner and Jean Martin. EXTENSION CHEMISTRY. By Bryan Milner and John Mills. EXTENSION PHYSICS. By Bryan Milner. Cambridge University Press Pounds 5.50 each

With the Government's "unrelenting pressure" to raise standards within tight budgetary limits, choosing textbooks that bring out the best in all pupils remains one of the department head's most underrated skills.

This new crop of GCSE texts makes the job even harder. What might affect your judgment is the way all these new resources emphasise the separate natures of biology, chemistry and physics, by design or by default.

Oxford's GCSE Chemistry is worthy but disappointing. The 19 sections cover a wide range of chemical knowledge in a traditional manner - starting with particle theory, introducing the mole in section 4 and finishing with the conceptually easier carbon chemistry in section 16.

The 300-plus pages look attractive and contain enough text to make the book seem value for money, but the excitement of chemistry is squeezed out by the style of presentation. The book is a collection of lists, bullet points and summaries, making it useful for revision but bereft of the narrative: the story of chemistry that can capture minds and inspire creativity.

Science for GCSE:Double Award is another matter. The reader is led through the science - a graph here, a question there - with the odd digression but coming back to the main thrust of the content smoothly. The 300-page book, which covers the full GCSE syllabus, is organised in three sections named after the science attainment targets.

The author has avoided the "death by double-page spread" approach, and gone for longer chapters, 30 in all, which help develop ideas and make the book appear authoritative and interesting. The end-of-chapter questions are demanding and the book is clearly aimed at students going for A*-C grades.

Excellent value at Pounds 14.99, the special offer of 20 per cent off orders of 30 or more lowers the cost to Pounds 12. It is possible to produce challenging and attractive material within the constraints of the national curriculum, certainly for the higher-tier students, and this book could become the standard text for many schools.

Essential Science for GCSE is aimed at those taking the foundation tier. Again, the book is organised by attainment target but, in this case, each section consists of double-page topic spreads. The left-hand page and some of the right-hand page contain basic information, with the rest of the space taken up by a summary of the key ideas and questions. At the end of each of the three colour-coded sections are two pages of GCSE questions, with answers. There is a comprehensive, 10-page glossary, but no index.

Although more expensive and less impressive than Hodder amp; Stoughton's Science for GCSE, this book is worth considering as a foundation tier text.

Cambridge's Extension series, aimed at higher tiercandidates, complements its original Science Foundation books.

Each of the 80-page books contains double-page spreads which start with a brief summary of the foundation tier material. The text occupies the left-hand side of each page while colourful and clear diagrams and a limited number of photographs occupy the right-hand side. A feature of the books is that the text is interspersed with a range of questions. Answers, additional questions, end-of-module tests, formulae, a glossary and examination advice complete each book. At Pounds 16.50 for the set, the three booklets are expensive but well worth considering.

Justin Dillon is director of the international education unit at King's College, London

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