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Schools policy

The Society is closely following current developments in education policy and their implications for the subject as it is taught in schools, as well as for out of classroom learning, with the new Government.

Completing GCSE, AS and A Level Reform Consultation (Ofqual)

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) has recently consulted on the final stages of reform to GCSE and A Levels.  This consultation has proposed the removal of a number of examination courses at GCSE and A Level which over-lap with more established qualifications. 

The courses of most relevance to the Society’s work are GCSE Humanities and a number of Environmental science/studies courses at GCSE, AS and A2.  The Society has supported their withdrawal recommending that pupils would be better served studying full courses in geography at GCSE and A Level, alongside other relevant qualifications. 

Further details on the consultation and the Society's response.

Current consultations on A Level

1. The Department for Education consultation on the new recommendations for geography A Level content, as advised by the A Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) Expert Panel for geography.

The Society was involved as a member of the ALCAB Expert Panel for geography. The Society has issued an initial statement, welcoming the proposals. The Society will be responding formally to the consultation over the summer, taking into account views of its Education Committee and Fellows, in particular those involved in teaching, higher education and as employers. We also encourage individuals with a professional interest in teaching and learning to submit their views independently.

The consultation can be found here. The closing date for responses is 19 September 2014 

2. Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) consultation on A level assessment 

Simultaneously, Ofqual has launched a consultation on matters relating to the assessment of geography at A Level, in the light of the revised content.  

The consultation can be found here. The closing date for responses is 22 September 2014

Ofqual has reconsidered its proposals for the balance of assessment in the light of the draft revised content and has decided that their original proposals for fieldwork, made in summer 2013, remain appropriate. The consultation thus repeats the original proposals and invites any further views on them. In addition, in response to the new subject content, some changes have been made to the assessment objectives on which Ofqual previously consulted.

The Society strongly supported the original proposals regarding the assessment of fieldwork, as set out in the consultation response linked to the item below, and continues to do so.

Consultation on the assessment of Geography A Levels (Ofqual)

The Society has recently responded to the Ofqual consultation on the assessment of Geography A Levels.

The Society warmly supports the recommendations in the Ofqual consultation on assessment and regulation, which sees a significant change in government policy to re-introduce an independent study for all geography students at A Level.

The Society's full consultation response can be downloaded here (PDF)

Consultation on the content of Geography A Levels (DfE)

The Society has recently responded to the DfE consultation on the content of A Levels.

The Society is deeply concerned about the DfE consultation on content, in which the proposed little-changed A Level content is now highly repetitious of the new draft (and more challenging) GCSE content. We feel this will be demotivating to students and teachers, will discourage uptake in higher education, and that it misses the opportunity to provide a better bridge into HE. We are asking, therefore, that the geography A Level receives a fuller review process with substantial revision of the current proposals.

The Society's full consultation response can be downloaded here (PDF)

Consultation on College of Teaching

The Society has recently responded to the consultation on the proposed College of Teaching.  This consultation is being undertaken under the auspices of the Princes Teaching Institute. 

The Society has no strong feelings either way on the proposal in general.  However there are three areas of detail in the proposals that raise significant concerns for the Society and which we oppose. 

These are in the following areas:

  • The scope and range of activities proposed for the college
  • Subject Specialism: supporting and representing subject specialist teachers
  • Professional accreditation and the provision of subject specialist Chartered accreditations for teachers

The Society’s full consultation response can be downloaded here (PDF).

For further details about the proposed College of Teaching are available.

DfE consultation on GCSE geography

On 11 June 2013 the Department for Education announced a consultation on the content of GCSEs, which includes geography, which will close on the 20 August 2013. There is a parallel consultation being undertaken by Ofqual about how GCSEs should be assessed.

The new proposals provide greater specification of what should be included in GCSE geography, alongside a specific requirement to undertake fieldwork in geography. It is proposed that geography, alongside most other reformed GCSEs, should be 100% assessed through final examinations. Full details of both consultations:

Over recent months the Society has been advising DfE on these proposals and the Society encourages its Fellows, Members and other interested colleagues to respond to these two consultations. The Society will be making a formal response to both consultations and has welcomed these changes:

The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) welcomes the subject content and assessment objectives for GCSE geography and believes the proposals will provide for more coherent progression from geography in Key Stage 3 and help lay the foundations for further study at A Level. 

The Society is pleased to see a focus overall on understanding change in, and interconnections between, people, places and environments. This  provides  good progression from the study of human and physical processes in Key Stage 3. We feel the greater specification of geographical subject content will ensure interesting and relevant study topics, from climate hazards and climate change; to global ecosystems, resource management and biodiversity; and cities and global economic development. 

In addition, the Society particularly welcomes the unequivocal recognition that fieldwork, in at least two contrasting environments, is a specific requirement within GCSE geography.

Review of the National Curriculum

National Curriculum for Geography consultation

The Society would like to thank its many members and Fellows, as well as many other geographers, who have responded to the Department for Education review of the draft National Curriculum for geography. It is heartening to know that geography has such an active and engaged community. 

There are many positive developments in the draft curriculum which the Society has welcomed. For example, it provides a focus on geographical place knowledge, alongside geographical understanding and skills; rebalances human and physical geography, redressing the erosion of the latter which had occurred over recent years; good coverage of geographical skills, requiring the use of globes, maps (including Ordnance Survey maps) and GIS at Key Stage 3; and an explicit requirement for fieldwork across Key Stage 1, 2 and 3.

The Society’s response, which is consistent with the views that the Society has previously expressed  to Ministers and officials, also identifies that climate change should be an explicit requirement within the National Curriculum for geography at Key Stage Three. View the Society’s full response to the consultation (PDF).

The Society also recognises, and we have made the Department for Education aware of this, that our Fellows and members hold a wide range of views about the curriculum. In this context, the Society’s response does not seek to represent the breadth and range of views expressed by its membership.

On 7 February 2013, the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, announced to Parliament details on the future of the national curriculum to be implemented from September 2014, including for geography. This was the culmination of a process for the review of the National Curriculum in England which began in January 2011. The Society was involved in the process, responding to formal consultations and as part of an advisory group to Ministers.

The proposals, on which they were consulting, represented the outcomes of that review. Available documents published include:

Our immediate response: The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) welcomes the proposed new geography Programme of Study for pupils aged 5 to 14. It has a necessary focus on core knowledge: the understanding of locations, country contexts, the key natural and human characteristics of our world, and the human and environmental processes that shape and change the world constantly and differentially. It requires map work and fieldwork at all key stages. In this way it clearly identifies the building blocks of geographical knowledge, understanding and skills that should be taught, and which underpin the understanding of more complex topics in later stages of study.

The Department for Education proposals: In summary - 'A high-quality geography education should inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Teaching should equip pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and environments, together with a deep understanding of the Earth’s key physical and human processes. As pupils progress, their growing knowledge about the world helps them to deepen their understanding of the interaction between physical and human processes, and of the formation of landscapes and environments. Geographical knowledge provides the tools and approaches that explain how the Earth’s features at different scales are shaped, interconnected and change over time.'

Secondary school accountability: At the same time the government has consulted on secondary school accountability. The Society has responded (PDF) and argued that the revised school accountability measures, which would report on a pupils progress in eight subject areas, should include an explicit requirement that pupils study a humanity GCSE (either geography or history).

Further details can be read in this briefing on the curriculum and accountability (PDF).

The content of the new National Curriculum was confirmed in early September 2013. The final National Curriculum primary (pdf) and secondary (pdf) documents are available to view.

Previous documentation

Reform of GCSE examinations

On 17 September 2012 the Secretary of State for Education, Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP, announced plans to replace GCSE exams - including in geography - with new English Baccalaureate Certificates, with a consultation - to which the Society responded (PDF). It was announced by the Secretary of State in Parliament on 07 February 2013, alongside changes to the Curriculum (details above), that the government will now not proceed with this approach, instead seeking reforms to existing GCSE exams, includng for geography. Further information

On 11 June 2013 both the Department of Education and Ofqual published details of this reform of the examinations - including for geography - and consultations that ran until 20 August and 03 September 2013 respectively. The Society responses to these consultations are below.

Geography in the English Baccalaureate

The Schools White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, was published by the Department for Education on 09 December 2010.

Included within this White Paper was the announcement of “a new award – the English Baccalaureate – for any student who secures good GCSE or iGCSE passes in English, mathematics, the sciences, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanity such as history or geography. This combination of GCSEs at grades A*-C will entitle the student to a certificate recording their achievement”.

The Society welcomes the fact that geography is one of the two humanity options alongside history.

On 20 July 2011 the Department of Education announced that the subjects in the Eng Bacc will stay the same for the next set of league tables to be published in January 2012 based on results from 2011 (25 August 2011).

The Society has submitted evidence (PDF) to the Education Select Committee of the House of Common's Inquiry into the English Baccalaureate which closed on Tuesday 8 March. The committee published its final report on 28 July 2011.

Reform of A Level examinations

On 23 January 2013 the Secretary of State for Education, Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP, announced proposed changes to A Level structure, including the development of new AS levels as a standalone qualification. These proposals were outlined in a letter to OFQUAL. As part of these changes the Russell Group of Universities are to set up an academic board to advise the exams watchdog Ofqual on the content of A levels. The working group on the new standards body will be chaired by geographer/Society Fellow Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, and will focus on A levels in maths, the sciences, languages, geography, history and Classics.

Schools exam results

Detailed analysis of GCSE and A Level results are available from 2000 to 2012. Results from 2012 were published on 16 August (A Level) and 23 August (GCSEs), both showing increases in the numbers taking geography.

  • Over 187,000 pupils took an exam in geography GCSE this year – placing it as the ninth most popular subjects taken. This is a 3.5% increase on 2011 (and compares to an increase of just 1.4% in the total number of exams taken across all subjects)
  • Over 32,000 and nearly 46,000 took an exam at either A Level or AS Level respectively in 2012, increasing by 2.5% and 1.4% on 2011 (at the same time as a 0.6% decline in the total number of exams sat across all subjects)

Other policy monitoring

Details of other policy announcements related to schools made by government and parliament can be found on our Schools policy monitoring page.

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