Product review: English Language GCSE for AQA: Progress and Progress Plus

  • Product review: English Language GCSE for AQA: Progress and Progress Plus

They say that in the UK between 20-30 earthquakes are felt each year; teachers could be forgiven for suspecting that most of these tend to be within education. GCSEs are a good example. Since 1987 when they were first introduced they have undergone a radical series of turbulent reforms in design, content, grading and accountability. Arguably, the most recent changes to the English language exams are liberating, representing an end to assessed coursework, a farewell to differentiation by tiers, no more open-book exams, and an increased level of textual challenge. But there’s no doubt that it’s another earthquake moment. Using an approved textbook is one way to help ensure you and your students stay with your feet on solid ground – and for AQA purposes Cambridge University Press has developed a new series of bespoke, full-coverage resources developed for the 2015 GCSE English Language qualifications.

There are two Student Books, Progress Plus for learners who are predicted to gain a Grade 5 or above and Progress for those who are likely need more structure and support to reach Grade 5. Both facilitate flexibility and benefit from an author team and that has poured heart and soul into creating exciting and attractive content with depth and breadth to guarantee learning improvement and colourful photographs that are sure to engage as they are real, relevant and interesting.

Quality content

The range of units is impressive with each one targeting a clearly defined area designed to develop the skills outlined in the assessment objectives. The units are handsomely structured and contain a delightful set of activities that are cognitively stimulating and challenging. The wealth of relevant and interesting source materials and activities is also very striking. There are units on offer covering reading, spoken language and writing with set practice papers to help prepare for the exams – and all the content is inherently engaging. I think there is plenty of practice within the books to help develop higher level thinking and confident fluent writing.

Each unit provides instructions and tasks enabling students gradually to build their expertise, and most end with a section for assessing progress. These progress checks examine what has been covered, challenge, offer pointers and prompt further self-assessment. Students will also find an examination preparation section containing some excellent sample papers, practical advice, annotated sample answers and further suggestions for revision.

The Teacher’s Resources are packed full of ideas and best-practice advice from experienced educators. There is unit-by-unit guidance, outlines and answers with key support for planning learning and teaching over two years ready for the exam. There is also support for effective use of assessment for learning and suggested approaches for using print and digital resources. In short, what you get here is a priceless, time-saving guide that offers a step-by-step route through each unit of work with clear targets, ideas for preliminary work, explorations, investigations, tips, differentiation, extension and assessment.

Digital enhancements

And there’s more. As students work through a unit in their books, they will encounter icons that direct them to access a digital version of the book on the aptly titled Cambridge Elevate. Available online through standard web browsers, or offline through iOS and Android tablet apps, Cambridge Elevate is an accessible and intuitive platform hosting interactive versions of the student books. Within each Cambridge Elevate edition you can increase font size and style; make voice notes; annotate, bookmark and highlight texts; view specially-commissioned videos; listen to audio extracts and more. These digital versions of the books really should send interest levels soaring because they add rich layers of interest and engagement in a variety of ways and help bring the material truly to life. The engaging video clips help to focus the mind. I particularly like the performances and author interviews, which are highly accessible and quite gripping.

From a teacher perspective the digital tools on offer are just as impressive with options for creating specific groups to manage learners and features including messaging between teachers and students, progress tracking, worksheets and editable documents. You can even perform whole-text searches for easy planning.

The Cambridge Elevate editions also contain ‘Assess to Progress’, which is a cleverly constructed assessment tool that gives teachers brilliant marking support, assessment for learning and progress reporting. It breaks down the assessment objectives into clearly defined levels and provides example answers across these levels for comparison marking and selfassessment. Not only will this save time, it will undoubtedly help students get to grips with how they are being assessed and what they can do to improve.

This is an A1 brighter thinking resource that offers a sophisticated solution to the challenges of English teaching and tailoring learning to the needs of students today. I’d say Cambridge has produced resources that are perfect for addressing the new exams and for helping students develop resilience and achieving a grade they can be proud of. The books are very affordably priced at under £20 and you can access Cambridge Elevate without having to break the bank, too.

Real Business Challenge

The free, fun and engaging Real Business Challenge (RBC) is now open and ready for your students to take part. Part of Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd.’s (CCE) award winning Community education programme, it is a national enterprise competition that is open to all secondary schools.

Linked to the national curriculum, this unique challenge is aimed at Years 9, 10, S2 and S3 and can be easily linked to teaching business studies, careers or run as an off-timetable enterprise challenge for a whole year group. Don’t miss out, to take part all you need to do is register online