Teachers are always looking for good revision and practice material for GCSE students. Peter Wilder assesses books designed to reinforce course topics.
Teachers are always on the lookout for a really good revision and practice book. In this series from OUP, the Intermediate and Higher tier were published in 1994, and the recent publication of a Foundation book now completes the series.
The books contain plenty of practice material. There are many exercises, each preceded by a brief explanation and one or two worked examples, but there are few illustrations. The presentation is certainly not exciting, but these are not expensive books, and a single volume aims to equip a student for the two years of key stage 4.
Each book targets one of the three tiers of GCSE, and the series claims to cater for all new GCSE syllabuses. While this may be true, an inevitable consequence is that for any particular syllabus, the books will contain much redundant material.
I would advise any students working through one of these books to check their syllabus to discover how much of the material they really need to cover. Foundation GCSE Mathematics aims at NC levels 4 to 6, Intermediate at NC levels 5 to 8; and Higher at NC levels 7 to 10, and is substantially more challenging in places.
The Foundation book seems to have been a long time in preparation, as it was clearly written with the 1991 national curriculum document in mind. The material is presented in four sections: Number, Algebra, Shape and Space, and Data Handling. Each section is divided into chapters, each containing several topics with a heading corresponding exactly to the bullet points in the Programme of Study from the old national curriculum.
In the final topic of a chapter on estimation, students are encouraged to use appropriate mental checking strategies when using the calculator. I am sure that these strategies need to be developed earlier in the chapter, when the calculator is first introduced.
Another concern I have about the exercises is their gender stereotyping. In one exercise I found a male carpenter, a woman buying curtain hooks, a female secretary, a woman hanging out washing, a male builder, and a girl hanging framed pictures. Not all the exercises are as stereotyped as this one , but this issue has been the subject of concern in mathematics education for many years and it is disappointing to find that it is still a problem.
The Higher and Intermediate books have fewer chapters than the Foundation book and the text is terse and crisp. The exercises are often long and rather repetitive, but some of the questions are really quite challenging, especially in the Higher tier.
This is a compact and comprehensive set of books at a reasonable price, and it may be a useful addition to resources for some teachers. On balance, however, I am still looking.
Peter Wilder is senior lecturer in mathematics education at De Montford University, Bedford