Geography “is more important than ever in today’s world”.

States OFSTED in today’s subject report. As a subject specialist I couldn’t agree more, this week my classroom has been the focus of numerous discussions related to the Middle East situation, Cyclone Yasi and the ongoing impact of the financial review. Geography is relevant, topical and engaging.

There is much to digest in the report; despite expecting the usual inspector bashing, I came away feeling slightly positive for the future. I can’t disagree that the individual practitioner is responsible for the quality of geographical learning that students are engaged with; I’m pleased the report recognises that when practitioners are given the time to collaborate, whether departmentally, or within networks, with subject based support, the quality of teaching and learning is enhanced for all students. The combined work and support of the GA and RGS in curriculum making, through the Action Plan for Geography (APG), has been fundamental in reducing the isolation that many practitioners and departments have felt in previous years.

But it’s also clear from the report that many geography specialists are hindered by the marginalisation of the subject within some schools, they still feel, and remain, isolated. Only with the support of leadership teams can such practitioners access the support they need to build an engaging curriculum. As the report states

‘If geography is weak it “is a key issue to be addressed by the leadership teams in these schools”

The report is right to highlight this situation, but I fear that the current economic climate will limit the potential support that colleagues may be able to access within school time, whilst funding for projects like the APG are removed daily, further squeezing opportunities available. Ambitious curriculum reforms need ambitious support.

I feel jaded by the prospect of another curriculum review (the fourth in my time of teaching), the report clearly welcomes core knowledge (weren’t we teaching this already?); but it makes little reference to what this might be, or how it will be drawn from the vast, and dynamic, content of the subject. Such a development requires the input of subject specialists ‘at the chalk face’, not only academics, those in positions of management or educational consultants. Practitioners from a range of geographical perspectives, serving a number of communities, are also well placed to engage in such a conversation.

The report also highlights the continued spectre of whether a specialist is delivering the content. I know many non-specialists that are able to teach the subject to the highest standard, these are characterised by their commitment to subject and their willingness to engage with, and be supported by, the community. The potential EBacc, combined with financial restraint within schools, and falling training places, could result in a surge in the number of non-specialists delivering the subject. Such non-specialists will need time and support, again this can only be provided by leadership teams.

My key message from the report- trust practitioners we know how to teach, but provide us with the time, support, and networking opportunities to engage with each other and the subject content. This way we can develop, and sustain, an engaging curriculum that enhances the education of children.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    An impassioned and timely appeal, Tony. We have just had the Inspectors in our school this week (inspections are done by ETI in N Ireland) and I’m very happy to report that they were more than pleased with the thriving Geography provision in our school.

    I also notice with interest another news story today in the Guardian that mentions Geography. It refers to the report published today by the Russell Universities about the ‘list’ of preferred and non-preferred A Level subject. As the Guardian states,

    “By not studying at least two of the following subjects – maths, English, geography, history, any of the three pure sciences or a classical or modern foreign language – ‘many degrees at competitive universities will not be open to you,’ the guide…states.”

    Needless to say, I’ve been giving this article a strong plug with my GCSE pupils today. Maybe others would like to do the same!

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