Reach for the stars;Secondary;English;Reviews;Books

17th September 1999 at 01:00
TOP GRADE ENGLISH. By Geoff Barton, Matthew Berry and Jane Christopher. Oxford pound;7.50.

This course book is aimed directly, and with a calculated degree of flattery, at GCSE students "who will already have an exceptional ability in English".

The tone of its confident, confiding introduction should certainly appeal to them: "We suspect you get bored by textbooks which patronise you or attempt merely to entertain you with time-filling activities."

Even if they detect a touch of mutual self-congratulation in this, it is unlikely to put them off what follows. Aiming for the star, and full of interpolated tips on how to achieve it, Top Grade English leads its bright students through a variety of intelligently designed sections on the media (with a particularly interesting comparative exercise on political speeches), fiction, drama and poetry. In each section the skills required are clearly laid-out, and the subsequent material gives plenty of guided opportunity to demonstrate them.

I was surprised, though, to find - in a book so admirably intended to challenge - the editors following what appears to be the current fashion (see also The Nation's Favourite Poems) of smoothing out the rough energy of the penultimate couplet of Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" by omitting a syllable.

I noticed this because it is blazoned on the cover! If anyone should be encouraged to resist this kind of slackness, it's Top Grade English students.

John Mole is the City of London's first official poet. He was formerly head of English at St Albans School, Hertfordshire

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