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Will you be responding to Ofqual's consultation on proposed changes to the assessment objectives and assessment arrangements?

Yes: We particularly welcome the Ofqual proposal to reintroduce internally assessed coursework at A Level in Geography, in the form of an independent study. This assesses essential geographical skills and learning that cannot be assessed in other ways.


Q1 Is the revised A level content in each of these subjects appropriate in view of the issues identified in Professor Smith’s report? Please provide evidence to support your response.

Overall, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) – the learned society and professional body for geography - does not consider the revised A Level content for geography to be appropriate.

Nor do we consider that Professor Smith’s report has addressed all the issues effectively. In particular, insufficient attention was paid to the need for progression in the A Level content from that in the new draft GCSE.

While the Society welcomes the following:

  • That there should be a common ‘core’ of identified geographical knowledge, understanding and skills which will be a requirement for all A Level geography courses.

  • That the core should represent 50% of a full (i.e. two year) A Level course.

  • The identification in principle of “Quantitative skills in geographical contexts” as a requirement and that 10% of the overall marks should be allocated to the use of quantitative methods (but not the actual proposed content of this (see point 3. below).

  • A clear recognition that fieldwork is essential within A Level geography and as preparation for further study in HE.

  • The need to rebalance and enhance the place of physical geography within A Level, such that it is on a par with human geography.

The Society is deeply concerned about the suggested content, in which the proposed little-changed A Level content is now highly repetitious of the new draft (and now 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 have significant and fundamental concerns in the following three broad areas.

1. The proposed conceptual framing and the proposed content for the 50% core replicates both the framing and content required at GCSE.

The Society has been pleased with the development of key stages 1 to 4, including the introduction of progression in conceptual framing of the teaching of geography. The framing that is the basis of the new GCSE proposals is that of ‘process, change and interconnection’. The conceptual framing as expressed in the current A Level proposals is identical, using exactly the same words of ‘process, change and interconnection’. The repetition is deeply unhelpful and the opportunity should be taken to progress the conceptual framing from GCSE to A Level (and we present some ideas in our response to question two).

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the repetition in conceptual framing, the Society is disappointed and concerned that the proposals for A Level’s 50% core content broadly repeat much of the same content that is required for GCSE. This will not promote coverage of new content at A Level, is a lost opportunity for young people’s learning through geography, and may well lead to pupils’ disengagement owing to repetition; concerns that have been also directly raised by teachers. It is difficult to discern whether there was any coherent attempt to relate the proposed content for A Level with that which has been proposed for GCSE in the review that was undertaken with the Awarding Bodies? The following table of headings illustrates this issue, which is carried further in the details of both proposals.

Required content

  GCSE A Level

Geomorphic processes and landscapes

Changing weather and climate

Landscape and change

Global climate system


Global ecosystems

Resource management and biodiversity

Environmental hazards

Natural resources


Cities and urban societies

Global economic development issues

Population dynamics

Economic change


While not wishing to be at all prescriptive, but merely to exemplify, topics that might work well at A Level (and which would meet the need for appropriate conceptual positioning of A Level with the concepts identified in Q 2 below) include, for example:

i. Geography of risk, resilience and security: addressing the distributions, demands and management of water, energy and food resources now, and projections for future changes.

ii. Management, mitigation and adaptation: detailed case studies at different spatial scales of how human societies manage mitigate and adapt to climate extremes/change, national economic alliances, and large scale migrations of people.

iii. Trans-boundary processes and global change: for example case studies of:

  • Environmental change: how physical and human processes on a large scale affect ocean water composition; water pollution; and soil/land degradation

  • Geo-political change: the impact of globalisation and the influence of national and international political alliances and differences in shaping places and regions

iv. The geography of inequality: exploring, from both physical and human perspectives, the nature of diversity, difference and distribution, and how this has come about, both within and between neighbourhoods and small areas.

v. The importance of geographical location: how and why some places thrive and succeed while others decline; understanding both vulnerable/declining and rapidly growing places and areas in terms of human and physical geographical processes and their interactions.

To overcome the serious problem identified above, with regard to the proposed content of A Level geography, the Society recommends that a deeper review of geography takes place and that the content is entirely reshaped in order to meet the needs of progression, both conceptually and in topics studied, from GCSE and into university. We recognise that this review could either be achieved by placing geography into the third group of disciplines identified, in the Smith Report, for substantial review; or it could also be achieved, with the willing involvement of the Awarding Organisations, by a commitment to change within the existing ‘framework’ criteria if the deadline for preparation for first teaching in September 2015 is to be met. Either way, it is recommended that a review panel, including representatives from academia, the Society, expert teachers and employers, contributes to this process. Such work should also be set within the context of the current updating review of the QAA benchmarking statement for geography study at university, which is being chaired by the Society’s Vice President for Research and Higher Education.

2. Physical Geography at A Level

The Society recommends that particular care is given, within both the core and optional content, to ensure that A Level provides balance and rigour across the subject, with approximately equal attention to physical, human and integrated geography. New A Levels need to respond in particular to the reduction and ‘softening’ of physical geography that has taken place over at least the last 10 years.

3. Quantitative skills in A Level geography

The Society supports the principle of identification of specific quantitative skills in A Level geography. We also welcome the proposal from Ofqual that quantitative skills in geography should comprise 10% of the overall assessment. However, the current proposals do not, in many instances, present the necessary level of challenge or progression within the discipline for this stage of education. The exception is the inclusion of some statistical methods beyond the basic descriptive ones, which is genuinely a progression from GCSE methods. Most of the remaining proposals either replicate work required for GCSE (and even as specified for primary pupils!), or as written do not present sufficient challenge for A Level.

The Society previously has made specific suggestions for the strengthening of coverage of quantitative skills at GCSE and the comparison of these to the A Level proposals highlight the significant level of overlap and lack of progression.

RGS-IBG consultation proposals for GCSE geography

DfE Proposed GCE AS and A Level Subject Content for Geography

The Society suggested that this should form an additional section of the Subject Content and Assessment for GCSE Geography titled: Mathematical, statistical and cartographic skills in geography

Annex: Quantitative skills in geographical contexts In order to be able to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding in Geography, learners need to have acquired competence in the following Level 2 quantitative skills that are relevant to the subject content, including:

Cartographic and GIS skills

  • Description, presentation, and interpretation of geo-spatial data in a simple GIS framework

  • Gradient, contour and spot height

  • Interpretation of cross sections and transects

  • Use of coordinates, scale and distance

  • Awareness and understanding of different types of maps (e.g. choropleth, relief) and different types of projections (e.g. Mercator, Equal Area)


Graphical skills

  • Plot and interpret different types of graphs and charts using appropriate scales, to include: pie chart, histogram, time series graph, and bivariate scatter plots and graphs

  • Select appropriate graphical methods to present and summarise data


Numerical skills

  • Demonstrate an understanding of number, size, area and scale and the quantitative relationships between units

  • First hand collection of data with an understanding of accuracy

  • Compare growth rate changes

  • Understand and correctly use probability and ratio, magnitude and frequency (e.g. 1:200 year flood; and use of logarithmic scales for orders of magnitude)

  • Draw informed conclusions from numerical data


Statistical skills

  • Use basic descriptive (not inferential) statistics: e.g. mean, mode and median; range and interquartile range

  • Understand and use percentiles and calculate percentage increase or decrease

  • Be able to identify weaknesses in selective statistical presentation of data

  • Understand basic sampling procedures (ideally first hand through the collection of data through fieldwork) and the influence of sample size

  • Undertake in a geographical context the ‘data cycle’: identifying a hypothesis, collecting data, analysis, interpreting the results and reviewing the hypothesis in the light of evidence.



  • Calculating and interpreting percentages.

  • Calculating and interpreting fractions, proportions and ratios.

Measure (cartography)

  • Using map coordinates including 6-figure grid references on OS maps as well as latitude and longitude.

  • Calculating and estimating distance measurements and area on maps.


  • Recognising the different types of variable and scales ofmeasurement.

  • Using and interpreting a variety of data sets, large and small, primary and secondary


Fieldwork and research methods

  • Understanding the strengths and limitations of sampling methods and applying this understanding when designing sampling strategies.

  • Collecting quantitative and qualitative primary and secondary data.

  • Understanding the strengths and limitations of research methods, including quantitative and qualitative primary data collection and secondary research.Presentation, analysis and interpretation

  • Choosing appropriate graphical and cartographical methods of presenting and interpreting primary and secondary data.

  • Using GIS to map and to present geographical data and learning about applications of GIS.

  • Interpreting and drawing conclusions from data presented in graphical, tabular and cartographic form.



  • Calculating and interpreting mean, mode and median.

  • Using and interpreting measures of dispersion (range, percentiles and standard deviation) and concentration (Gini co-efficient).

  • Recognising positive and negative correlation and interpreting the strength of correlations and the presence of anomalies, using scatter plots and line of best fit.

  • Analysing geographical relationships by generating appropriate hypotheses and selecting and using appropriate statistical tests.

  • Interpreting the results of statistical tests including their statistical significance.

The assessment of quantitative skills in Geography AS and A level must comprise 10% of the whole assessment.










Q2 Will the revised A level content in each of these subjects enable students to progress to undergraduate study (particularly study in the same subject)? Please provide evidence to support your response.

2 h) Geography

No: The proposals do not provide the necessary demand and progression from GCSE and into HE, in either the conceptual framing or proposed content of geography as a subject discipline at A Level. As such, the Society does not support the current proposals as written.

As proposed, A Level geography sees the concepts of place and space integrated into and delivered through study of the following areas:

  1. Physical geography: processes, interaction and change

  2. People and environment: processes, interactions and change

  3. Human geography: processes, interactions and change

This conceptual framing, with its focus on process, change and interaction is virtually identical to new draft geography GCSE. The draft GCSE builds well on the earlier phases of 5-14 education, and is framed in the following way:

  1. Physical geography: processes and change

  2. People and environment: processes and interactions

  3. Human geography: processes and change

This repetitive approach to A Level provides inadequate demand in terms of the conceptual framing for A Level geography. In addition, the proposed Aims and Objective section of the A Level consultation materials is in effect a minor tweaking of the ‘old’ subject criteria. In terms of the progression in demand for students, this ‘cut and paste’ approach now leaves A Level markedly divergent from, and significantly less coherent than, the work that DfE has led and achieved in building progression into the Aims and Objectives agreed for National Curriculum geography and proposed for GCSE. Furthermore, it misses the opportunity to provide a better bridge into university level study.

We recommend that the Aims and Objective section is significantly rewritten and that the level of demand descriptions for A Level are revised to recognise that A Level geography should:

  • Provide greater depth of understanding and sophistication of geographical analysis through synoptic approaches across this subject discipline.

  • Introduce geographical concepts that build on, rather than repeat, those that underpin GCSE; for example, concepts of difference and inequality; risk, resilience, and security; trans-boundary processes and global change; and management, mitigation and adaptation, all applied in a spatial sense.

  • Contain 50% core content that is distinct, and progresses, from the content at GCSE and which is studied in depth rather than breadth.

  • Contain specified quantitative and qualitative methods that relate to study at this level and that help prepare for further study at HE.

A positive development in terms of the level of demand at A Level is Ofqual’s welcome proposal that 20% of assessment in A Level geography should be through internal assessment. This provides for the reintroduction of an individual research project (ideally based on fieldwork) to be undertaken by A Level geography students. The previous removal of this element of A Level geography has led to students entering HE courses having never undertaken a significant programme of individual geographical research; through which they would have delivered a research project from its inception, to the collection of data, analysis and interpretation and the presentation of their findings in relation to their original research question.

Higher Education colleagues have repeatedly commented that many (indeed most) students now arrive at university with no experience of this style of work or an understanding of the level of demand it places on undergraduate students. Indeed, such evidence-led research study is an essential characteristic of the subject discipline of geography and vital for successful progression into HE. In response to the Society’s work with HE colleagues around A Level, one HE colleague commented; “Not a single one of the year 1 geographers this year has experience of having written a coursework essay for geography. Their only experience of writing has been in the form of short essay-style answers written in the examinations. As such, many are really struggling with writing longer coursework essays and the associated skills such as referencing.”


Q4 Is the revised AS qualification content in each of these subjects appropriate? Please provide evidence to support your response.

4 h) Geography

No: The Society’s concerns over the range of content and level of demand for the full A Level are of equal relevance to AS level geography.

The Society welcomes a clear requirement for fieldwork to be an integral element of AS geography.


Q5 Do you think that any of the proposals have the potential to have a disproportionate impact, positive or negative, on specific student groups, in particular the 'protected characteristic' groups? (The relevant protected characteristics are disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.) Please provide evidence to support your response.

No: The Society welcomes the renewed commitment to fieldwork within the proposals for both AS and the new A Level for geography. This continues the existing requirement for fieldwork within this subject discipline and places no new additional burdens on schools and their pupils in relation to specific student groups e.g. students who may have access issues in relation to fieldwork.

The Society has extensive experience in support schools to undertake fieldwork through a popular range of continuing professional development courses and a wide range of online support and resources. For further details please see [ARCHIVED - updated link]


Q6 How could any adverse impact be reduced and how could the subject content of A levels be altered to better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not? Please provide evidence to support your response.

As identified in Q5 some students studying A Level geography may need specific support to undertake fieldwork. However, the requirement to undertake fieldwork is an existing requirement of current AS and A2 geography courses. The Society recognises that the new opportunity for an internally assessed individual research project may raise some concerns for some students about access to particular places. It needs to be widely appreciated that the chosen research site can just as effectively be local and potentially more accessible, rather than further afield. It should be the quality of a student’s research, how they set up their enquiry, the data they collect and how they analyse, interpret and present findings that are the basis for assessment. The mark scheme for the individual projects should not preference remote or ‘exotic’ locations.





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