11th February 2000 at 00:00
LONGMAN ROUTES THROUGH ENGLISH SERIES: Authors in their Times: Comparative Reading in GCSE English. By Andrew Bennett pound;5.50. Poems in Your Pocket: Imaginative Approaches to GCSE Poetry. By Mike Ferguson pound;5.50. Shakespeare Page and Stage: Approaches for GCSE English. By Peter Thomas. pound;8.50. Teacher's Guide pound;18.50 each.

It is no illusion that NEAB is everywhere about us - a combination of quality product and shrewd marketing have put it in a position where nearly 60 per cent of schools in England enter their students for its GCSE English papers and more than 65 per cent for its GCSE English Literature.

The Routes through English series is designed to focus on GCSE English examination and coursework requirements and comes with the NEAB imprimatur. But the series is more than simply a handmaiden to the one exam board.

Each coursebook in the series so far (a media text is yet to be published) provides a good range of activities, drawing on some stimulating material, to encourage students to analyse texts with increasing confidence and to respond to them imaginatively, while there aresections in each book which take the students through the exam and coursework requirements, with clear guidance as to what examiners are looking for and how to provide it.

The teacher's guides provide useful pinpointing of which national curriculum criteria are being met in each activity, with sound photocopiable sheets to extend the activities available in the coursebooks.

All in all, these are pragmatic, reassuring, exam-oriented books, and perhaps it is because of this that they are also faintly depressing - they provide a solid manifestation of the shift that has taken place in the educational establishment and in students' minds from curiosity, enquiry and investigation to the acquisition of knowledge not for its own sake, but in order to achieve an examination grade.

As such, they are a useful tool in helping teachers and students cope with the world as we know it. Whether, though, this kind of approach will help students develop the flexible open thinking to cope with the world they will be faced with in 10, 20, 30 years' time is an altogether larger question.

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