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Overview of the Society’s response

Geography provides an essential educational entitlement supporting Britain’s young people to grow up:

  • curious and knowledgeable about their world, locally, nationally and globally.

  • able to understand why the environment matters to us all.

  • aware that places and regions are different, and why they change, at the local, national and global scales.

  • realising the challenge of sustainable development.

  • understanding that people, places and environments are interconnected and interdependent • aware of cultural diversity locally, nationally in the UK and worldwide.

In short, geography when well taught supports young people in becoming environmentally and socially responsible and culturally tolerant local, national and global citizens.

There is no doubt that geography should remain a key compulsory element of the National Curriculum at KS1 and 2. If we are not to diminish young peoples’ knowledge, understanding and curiosity about their world we need to ensure that every primary child has access to well planned and well taught geography lessons. Understanding our world and the pressures placed upon it is more important than ever before; we only have to pick up a newspaper or watch the news to recognise this.

A timetabled slot on geography would be highly desirable to deliver such core learning. We do not support integrated humanities teaching and learning, except in those instances where there is high level planning provided by relevant subject specialists, robust learning objectives that draw their strength from the combination of different subjects’ specific contributions to an integrated approach and clear learning outcomes for children.

Primary coordinators and teachers should be further supported so that all pupils can benefit from high quality geography lessons.

In addition, opportunities for geography to combine, from time to time, with other subjects to provide coherent learning opportunities for young people should be more fully grasped, building on subject specialist knowledge. Examples of this work might include:

  • with MFL such as French or Spanish to provide a context for learning about these respective countries whilst learning their languages.

  • with history to investigate the past and current historic and geographical characteristics of the pupils’ local area – drawing on the essential contribution of Learning Outside the Classroom through fieldwork and the role of citizenship within the local context.

  • with English through the study of places in literatures – e.g. reading books such as Floella Benjamin’s Coming to England to explore not only the experiences of migration but also the geography of the Trinidad and its similarities and differences to the UK.

The Society would be very willing to support further exploration of the contribution of geography to the primary phase within the development of the Rose Review.


Aspect 1: Curriculum design and content

Question: In relation to the curriculum what is it reasonable to expect schools to provide and manage within the statutory time requirements of the primary school day?

It is reasonable to expect that all primary schools provide a timetabled provision for geography (as well as other Foundation Subjects) so that all primary pupils can enjoy and learn from an identifiable and full geographical entitlement.

The Society strongly supports the principle of a National Curriculum, a curriculum that can help guarantee a universal educational entitlement for all children so that they can achieve, aspire and enjoy their lives; that helps prepare them for the world of work and successful and productive lives; and promotes a curiosity about the world around them.

We believe a key element of such a curriculum is the specialist knowledge, specific skills, discipline based analysis and understanding – appropriate to the age and abilities of young people and that can be developed through out their school careers. A key element of such progression is the enhanced knowledge, skills and understanding that are provided through a pupil’s developing engagement primarily through subject disciplines and also multi through subject disciplines and also multidisciplinary approaches to integrated topics.

We recognise that primary schools may retain a ‘mixed economy’ of subject based lessons and integrated ‘topic’ work. However, the Society would wish to stress the benefits that a clear commitment to subjects can provide, through the teaching of subject specific lessons and also through the contribution made by subject disciplines to robust and well planned integrated topics.

The study of geography stimulates an interest in, and a sense of wonder about, places and helps make sense of a complex and dynamically changing world. It explains where places are, how places and landscapes are formed, how people and environment interact, how our environment is changing and how a diverse range of economies, societies and environments are interconnected through processes such as globalisation and sustainable development. If there is one subject which can fire a pupil’s curiosity about the world; promote their understanding of sustainable development; and help them explore their rights and responsibilities as local, British and global citizens - it is geography.

We strongly believe that the expertise and enthusiasm of subject specialist teaching benefits teachers and pupils. As the Department for Education and Skills (as it was then called), said: “Our very best teachers are those who have a real passion and enthusiasm for the subject they teach. They are also deeply committed to the learning of their students and use their enthusiasm for their subject to motivate them, to bring their subject alive and make learning an exciting, vivid and enjoyable experience.” (DfES, June 2003)

Indeed, such expertise and enthusiasm is essential both for dedicated subject lessons and also to ensure that integrated approaches provide coherent and robust learning outcomes for pupils. At their worst, poorly planned integrated topics can provide pupils with little more than an unstructured mish-mash of ideas, which have been bundled together under one overarching title.

We recognise the National Curriculum subjects cannot remain static. If we are to prepare young people for the world they will inhabit, the curriculum must be responsive to changes in society, the nature of work and the impact of technology. As well as building on the best of the past, it must also address contemporary challenges such as sustainability, mass migration and globalization. Recent changes to geography at KS3 have helped to do that and reflect the thriving academic background of geography, which studies some of the most important issues facing the world today, from climate change to migration, from neighbourhood diversity to flooding. The opportunity within the Rose Review is to ensure that the KS1 and 2 curricula provide children with a coherent, educationally robust and engaging geographical experience. This experience should be appropriate to the primary phase and provide a good geographical grounding upon which pupils can further develop their geographical skills, knowledge and understand when they transfer to the KS3 curricula.

However, geography is a challenging subject to teach well and we strongly believe that it requires specialist subject knowledge and skills. This is essential for the coordination and planning of the work of non-specialists and ideally in teaching geography. It is upon such planning that primary colleagues, who may not be geography specialists, can also teach lessons which can inspire and engage their pupils.

Ofsted survey inspections conducted between 2005 and 2007 continue to show that many teachers, particularly in primary schools, are not confident in teaching geography and have little or no opportunity to improve their knowledge of how to teach it (Ofsted 2008). Further, according to Ofsted, the leadership and management of geography is weaker than for other subjects in primary (and secondary schools) in 2004/05. Many geography coordinators have significant weaknesses in their subject knowledge. However, in those primary schools where geography is well managed, the subject thrives and contributes positively to the Every Child Matters outcomes (Ofsted, 2008).

We are deeply concerned that some senior managers in schools (particularly at the primary phase) seem to struggle to engage with geography and other non-core disciplines. The importance of such subjects in contributing to the Every Child Matters, global dimension, community cohesion and sustainable development agendas need further leadership and reinforcement from DCSF, the QCA and others.

There is a significant challenge to ensure that the quality of provision within subject specific geography lessons at KS1 & 2 is enhanced and further that the geographical elements of integrated approaches are well planned and delivered. This challenge should also include the importance of ITE provision in geography (and the other foundation subjects) and also continuing professional development that supports a teacher’s subject specific work. For example, the Society’s Chartered Geographer (Teacher) accredits and recognises a teacher’s high level of skills and experience in their understanding and teaching of geography – alongside their contribution to supporting this subject across their school and beyond. Our experience of awarding CGeog (Teacher) to primary colleagues is that it provides a significant opportunity to identify and further support subject specific CPD in geography relevant to the primary context.


Question: Should primary pupils continue to be introduced to all the subjects of the National Curriculum from Year 1? 

Absolutely Yes

From the walk to school to visiting the local playground, from the car ride to granny’s to a cheap flight to Spain primary pupils experience the world ’geographically’. Even at this early age children express a desire to understand where places are, what they are like, how they might be changing and what it might be like to live there. In this regard, it is essential that, from the earliest opportunity, the curriculum provides children with the appropriate geographical knowledge, skills, and understanding to make sense of their immediate world and further afield. Geography is the subject that links learning in the classroom to the real world that is experienced by children themselves.

Building on the work that can take place within the foundation stage the Society believes that key elements of a child’s geographical experiences in across KS1 and KS2 should include:

  • Being taught about key geographical features. This might include knowledge of the UK’s constituent nations, its capital cities, mountain ranges and rivers and the location of their home locality within the UK. At the global scale this might include key geographical features such as the poles, equator, continents, oceans, mountain ranges and other features relevant to countries of interest to the pupils and those selected for specific study.

  • Exploration of how people, places and environments interact and are interdependent, with particular reference to the human, physical and environmental features of the pupils’ local area. This might include, examination of the social and cultural diversity of the local population, changes taking place in the local area, and how the local area might be connected with and interdependent to other places (e.g. where the food and other products in local shops originate from).

  • The study of places further afield e.g. places of interest elsewhere in the UK and beyond, places the children might visit on holiday or through family links, and places or geographical events that are featured in the news. This should include a specific study of an overseas locality that contrasts with the locality of the pupil’s school. This provides a specific opportunity to develop the global dimension within the primary context – including work to establish linking arrangement with other schools in the UK and abroad. In addition, it provides opportunity for pupils to experience the potential “awe and wonder” of other places and to develop this theme within the Every Child Matters agenda.

  • The use of plans, maps and globes to identify places of study and interest identified in a. b and c and the opportunity for pupils to make their own maps and plans – such as of their local area. Pupils should use appropriate geographical skills, such as maps skills (including the use of appropriate OS and digital maps), fieldwork and geographical enquiry (such as a local shopping survey or environmental quality survey). This might include, for example, the use of Google Earth and age appropriate Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software to explore the local area, Britain’s geography and the global dimension.

  • Study of the environment and environmental interactions, with a particular focus on their school grounds and local area, as well as further afield. An exploration of how our actions can impact (both positively and negatively) on the environment with particular reference to the local area, as well as an introduction to the global impact of sustainable development and pupils’ roles as citizens within the local, national and global contexts.

  • Out of classroom fieldwork (either within or beyond the school grounds at KS1, moving to include fieldwork beyond the school grounds at KS2) through which pupils can apply appropriate geographical vocabulary, skills and undertake age appropriate investigations such as comparing their local weather, environment and human and physical geography to other places in the UK and elsewhere. We recognise the significant educational benefits of KS2 pupils undertaking residential based out of classroom activities and would encourage as many schools as possible (within the constraints of capacity, experience and cost) to provide their pupils with such opportunities.

The Society believes there is a continuing need for distinct subjects to be at the heart of the National Curriculum, which should be reflected in materials which highlight a subject’s specific contribution to a child’s education, as well as its wider contribution across the curriculum. Such work should also strengthen opportunities for curriculum enrichment/cross curricular themes such as:

  • Citizenship education and community participation. Geography provides an essential context to the exploration of young peoples’ rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in their local areas, nationally and globally.

  • Community Cohesion. We note the new statutory duty placed on schools to promote Community Cohesion and believe geography provides an essential context through which pupils can investigate, better understand and positively contribute to their local community.

  • Identity and cultural diversity. It being through geography that the nature and characteristics of our, and other, societies can be explored

  • The global dimension and sustainable development. Geography is the most important subject area in supporting school with the global dimension and enabelling their pupils to explore and understand sustainable development.

QCA’s current non-statutory units of study for geography have often become confused in the minds of teachers with many primary colleagues believing that they are the ‘statutory’ curriculum and therefore they attempt to teach all of the units in a very prescriptive way


What should be the position of science and ICT within the primary curriculum?

Science and ICT are clearly important. However no more important than learning about the world, its people and its environments – an educational entitlement that is provided through geography.

There are opportunities for closed links between science and ICT and geography. We would welcome, for example, well planned lessons that bring together the specific contributions of geography and science to help young people better understand key areas of work such as the role of sustainable development within their local environment.

In addition, we would welcome the further integration of appropriate ICT technologies within geography lessons. These might, for example include, ICT packages that can help pupils record and present the results of their fieldwork, the use of Digital Ordnance Survey materials and maps (including for example Google Earth) and GIS technologies and ICT that can support fieldwork investigations into their schools locality and further afield.


What is case and scope for reducing prescription and content in the programmes of study?

There is no case to be made and very little scope for the reduction of content and prescription in geography.

There is currently relatively little prescription in the KS1 and KS2 geography national curriculum. The Society believes that any further reduction in prescription for geography at KS1 and 2 would seriously damage the educational potential and delivery of this subject.

We note that recent curriculum reviews in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have promoted the importance, and supported the contribution, of geography as a separate subject within the primary phase. In these devolved administrations geography has not been diluted through a reduction in prescription or the promotion of integration.

The key issue with geography in the English primary phase is not an overloaded curriculum with too much content (as was the case with geography at KS3) but rather the professional skills and capacity of primary teachers to improve the both the quality of specific geography lessons and the ‘geographical’ contribution to integrated activities. Sadly all too few primary colleagues possess a sufficient professional understanding of geography that can help them support a good quality geographical education for their pupils; this is a lost opportunity for too many pupils.

However, as OFSTED have identified, the potential for this subject is great and, where well planned and well taught, can provide pupils with outstanding educational experiences.

There is already significant stress on the time provision for geography and other foundation subjects, which can be particularly acute in Y2 and Y6 with the added pressure of SATs. Indeed many schools during these years reduce the time allocated to the Foundation Subjects (and hence their pupils entitlement to the full national curriculum) in order to focus additional time on preparation for SATs.