Our response to the DfE call for evidence argues for greater emphasis on fundamental knowledge, understanding and skills, and advocates for subject-specialist staff and later implementation of streaming into vocational or academic pathways.
Response submitted 2011
The current curriculum provides a ‘broad and balanced’ education for all young people. It is essential that all young people learn English, mathematics, geography, history and science as the essential core.
It reflects subject disciplines in the organisation of the curriculum. In our view this subject base needs strengthening at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 as it has been undermined in recent years by, for example, QCDA promoting the integrated teaching of subjects.
It provides a statutory entitlement through which pupils gain the opportunity to learn about key areas of knowledge and understanding and subject specific skills and concepts. This provides parents and employers with the confidence that young people are gaining the appropriate knowledge, understanding and skills which will equip them for further study and careers.
It provides the potential to reduce repetition across Key Stages (although this is not always realised) and to lead into, as appropriate, further study at GCSE and A Level.
A greater emphasis on the fundamental knowledge, understanding and skills for key subject disciplines – English, mathematics, geography, history and science - to provide rigour across the Key Stages.
A reduction in the number of subjects that is statutorily required.
A focus on subject specialism at KS3 and in the primary phase, particularly in Years 5 and 6, with subjects being taught separately and by trained subject-specialists in KS3 if not at primary level.
That the statutory subjects should clearly identify an irreducible core of fundamental knowledge, skills and understanding. This should form the foundation for all national curriculum subjects. Beyond that core learning, teachers should have the flexibility to be able to extend and develop their pupils learning.
The separation of the statutory curriculum into its current ‘core’ and ‘foundation’ subjects provides an unhelpful demarcation that separates subjects, regardless of their statutory nature, into a first and second tier. This demarcation should be removed.
The Society welcomes the Wolf Report’s recommendation that vocational elements should only make up 20% of the 14-16 curriculum. The Society agrees that it is not appropriate for pupils to be channelled in to vocational or academic pathways at 14 and that this choice is better left to post 16.
The National Curriculum could be slimmed down by removing some of the subjects that are currently statutory, such as citizenship and ICT.
Their statutory status creates the potential for them to ‘crowd out’ the timetable and also, in some schools, for these subjects to become required ‘short courses’ at GCSE limiting the time available and option choices for pupils to study key subjects.
Aspects of these subjects should still be taught but should be embedded in learning through other subjects. An example, in relation to the use of ICT, would be learning about and using Geographical Information Systems (i.e. the use and combination of digital mapping with data sets such as information from the census) through geography.
No. The curriculum squeeze on non-core subjects (especially on geography and history) has been well established and in our view is highly undesirable.
We strongly believe that each key subject in the National Curriculum should have a significant allocation of teaching time provided within an individual school timetable and that the best way to achieve this is to ensure parity on scope of core content for each of the national curriculum subjects and equality in terms of school performance targets.
The Society does not believe a central DfE ‘directive’ on time allocation would redress the balance. This would lead to DfE micro management of school timetables and would not, in our view, guarantee the allocation of time to a subject. Some schools may use creative approaches to the timetable to satisfy a notional allocation of time.
We also recommend that DfE/Ofsted undertakes periodic research to understand how much time schools allocate to different subjects. For example, schools could be asked to provide a percentage breakdown of the time they allocate to the subjects, and whether this was through subject specific or integrated/combined lessons, as part of their regular reporting. This might provide a transparent, quick and effective way of evaluating allocations.
The White Paper highlights the important professional role of teachers in the classroom. The Society welcomes this, as teachers’ professional knowledge and skills are essential to good quality learning, as is enthusiasm for the subject and an up to date knowledge of it.
We would like to see the DfE put its weight behind the significant opportunities that have been created in recent years to recognise subject-based professionalism, through accreditation. This is through the award of subject-based, teaching focused, Chartered accreditations, approved like any other professional accreditation through the Privy Council. For example, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) awards the professional accreditation Chartered Geographer (Teacher). Comparable subject specific Chartered schemes are available for science, English and mathematics teachers; the Chartered history teacher accreditation is being developed.
It is not just in the classroom that high quality teaching and learning takes place. The Society would stress the need to retain the statutory role of fieldwork within the geography national curriculum, as this helps to bring the subject alive and demonstrate the way in which the subject can practically inform our lives.
There are some issues in relation to whether specific areas of knowledge and understanding should be located within either geography or science. The rationale underpinning the Society’s concerns is:
Maintaining the integrity of a subject discipline’s distinctive contribution to a young person’s education. (Whilst there may be some ‘fuzzy boundaries’ between subject disciplines it is essential that pupils can be introduced to a subject’s core knowledge as part of a coherent exploration of a subject. This cannot be achieved with ‘bits’ of knowledge passed around different subject areas.)
Providing the necessary progression within a subject, particularly in relation to preparation for examination courses at GCSE and beyond.
The Society strongly believes that the following two areas should be identified as statutory within the geography curriculum rather than the science curriculum:
Weather, climate and the water cycle
Geography is the study of the Earth’s surface – both physical and human – and given that rock type influences so much of what happens at the Earth’s surface, as does the climate and water, we feel they should be part of the geography curriculum, as indeed they always traditionally were until the science National Curriculum was first written. Furthermore, the Society understands that a consultation by the National Science Learning centre of 600 practicing science teachers showed that science teachers identified ‘earth sciences’ as one of the least popular subjects to be included in the science National Curriculum. In contrast, it is the Society’s direct experience that geography teachers would share our view that earth sciences belong as a fundamental element of the subject discipline of geography and that geography teachers would relish the opportunity to teach it as part of a coherent geographical programme of study.
'Earth sciences': The Society recommends that the following should form core knowledge within the statutory geography (rather than science) curriculum 5-14:
Geological time, formation of rocks, the geology and landscape of the UK, weathering and erosion
Plate tectonics: how and why mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes occur
‘Weather, climate and the water cycle’: The Society recommends that the following should form core knowledge within the statutory geography (rather than science) curriculum 5-14:
Climate and weather patterns in the UK and beyond
What drives seasons, the winds and ocean currents
How the global climate system works
Rivers and coasts in the UK: their landforms and processes, including the water cycle, flooding and coastal erosion
No. We do not believe that citizenship has the body of knowledge, the conceptual integrity or coherence that the traditional subjects all exhibit.
Furthermore, the introduction of citizenship has tended to selectively ‘cherry pick’ specific issues out of other subject disciplines in some schools. At its worst this means complex geographical issues, such as climate change or migration, might be reduced to a ‘for or against’ debate in a citizenship lesson, divorcing the debate from the rigorous and complex subject knowledge needed to underpin understanding of such issues. For example, Ofsted (2007 Geography – changing practice) state that in relation to the ‘global dimension’, “sometimes (in primary schools), topics such as global warming are taught, but the geographical dimension is absent”.
However, it is important that young people learn about the essential aspects of life as a citizen – whether that be personal, social, health, financial or civic responsibilities – and that these are best placed together as one area of learning.
Yes. We believe geography should certainly be statutory at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3; and ideally also at KS4.
1 .Geography is the subject through which young people learn about the contemporary world in which they live – its people, places and environments and the links between them. At school it embraces both:
Sound locational (spatial) information about continents and countries and the human and physical characteristics of places and regions, and
The understanding of the processes by which our physical and human environments and landscapes are shaped and changed, at scales from local to global.
The former concerns essential knowledge of ‘what is where’. The latter starts to develop a factually-based understanding of ‘how and why’, exploring processes that range from plate tectonics and flooding, to migration and economic development.
The discipline of geography brings to the curriculum the following unique combination of attributes:
Being the systematic study of the world’s surface; and providing young people with a sound locational framework for understanding the world
Being the spatial science: locating and learning about places, regions and continents; and how and why they are interconnected at different scales and the processes by which they change
Spanning the physical and human sciences; enabling the study of how humans depend on, utilise and interact with the environment
Informing our everyday lives; such as helping us to understand the neighbourhood we live in, what jobs we do, how our population is changing, and the landscapes around us
Using maps as its basic tool, whether an Ordnance Survey map, online visualisation, or in computer-based geographic information systems
Having geographical concepts that underpin explanation of the key processes that shape the Earth’s physical and human geography.
2. Geography and history are two complementary but totally distinct ways of seeing and understanding the contemporary world and key phases in its development. It is essential that geography and history are treated in exactly the same way – i.e. that they retain parity in terms of position within the National Curriculum. Both should be statutory at KS1, 2 and 3. There are no grounds whatsoever for choosing to make one of them, but not the other, statutory at Key Stage 4.
3. Geographers have the knowledge and skills that render them highly employable, as four recent national surveys have shown in different ways. Further information on these is in Section 33 of this consultation response and more can be provided if required.
The Society, on behalf of its Educational Committee, will submit to DfE its recommendations for a proposed programme of study in geography. The Society will identify the essential core knowledge, understanding and subject specialist geographical skills that should form the basis of a statutory National Curriculum in this subject discipline.
We believe history should certainly be statutory at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3; and ideally also at KS4.
Geography and history are two complementary but totally distinct ways of seeing and understanding the contemporary world and key phases in its development. It is essential that geography and history are treated in exactly the same way – i.e. that they retain parity in terms of position within the National Curriculum. Both should be statutory at KS1, 2 and 3. There are no grounds whatsoever for choosing to make one of them, but not the other, statutory at Key Stage 4.
No. ICT, as a set of essential tools, is an important part of young peoples’ learning. However it is better considered in terms of how its use can support specific learning in different subject disciplines. In the case of geography, for example, the use of databases to record, analyse and present geographical information gathered first hand through fieldwork. In addition, there are distinct subject-specific ICT applications that can only be successfully taught within their subject context. For example, the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is a statutory area of the current geography curriculum (and also a requirement within GCSE and A Levels examinations in geography) and should remain so. The use of GIS is highly desired by employers and pupils’ exposure to, and use of, this technology will serve them well in relation to their future careers and also further study at GCSE, A Level and university, where the use of GIS is an essential element of more advanced geographical study.
Yes, there is a need for guidance as to levels of attainment.
The Level Descriptors in geography provide a benchmark (outside SATs, GCSE and other examinations) to identify pupils’ progress within a subject. The descriptors could be usefully refined and simplified around a revised statutory curriculum for geography that highlights the knowledge, understanding and skills required to progress through this subject.
Fundamentally the National Curriculum provides an opportunity to raise the aspiration of pupils’ achievement, particularly in those schools where alternative curriculum routes of integration and vocational courses have become the norm.
The Society believes that geography should be studied by and benefits pupils of all abilities. Whilst not all pupils will achieve the highest grades in geography, the Society believes that, other than in exceptional circumstances, pupils should not be ‘opting out’ of the range and depth of study that a core academic curriculum can provide to the age of 16. Parallel study of high quality vocational qualifications for a small proportion of the time may also be desirable.
For those pupils who might never achieve the 5 A-C grade GCSEs across the EBacc subjects, might there be an alternative way of recognising their academic achievement in these subjects – albeit at a lower level?
The National Curriculum should, in itself, provide opportunities that challenge the most able pupils, and inspire and extend pupils’ achievement. In geography they should include opportunities, for example, for extended writing, for enquiry and for enhanced fieldwork. Teachers should be encouraged and supported in developing those opportunities for pupils, within schools or across a number of schools.
The learned societies and professional bodies, through their established partnerships with universities and employers, are well placed to support extension activities and programmes for high attaining pupils. For example, this might include the provision of master class workshops, Higher Education engagement activities, or opportunities to study real world applications of subjects through employer mentor links.
The Society is mindful that for some pupils with disabilities the opportunities for them to become involved in fieldwork may be limited. However, the Society has been involved in a work that has supported schools to provide enhanced fieldwork opportunities, both within their local areas and also in more challenging environments in the UK and overseas, for pupils with a range of disabilities.
The Society has run extensive exhibition and educational programmes to engage black and minority ethnic communities through geography, using the understanding that geography brings of place, community, migration and interconnections between the UK and other parts of the world. The subject provides a good basis for engaging the breadth of Britain’s ethnic communities.
The Society notes the results of the National Geographic – Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey. This survey sampled the geographical knowledge of 3,250 young adults (18-24) in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the US. British young people answered only 50% of the questions correctly, with young adults in Sweden, Germany, Italy, France and Japan achieving higher levels of accuracy in their geographical knowledge.
The overall level of correct answers (56 possible answers in total) for each country was as follows:
Sweden 40 (71%)
Germany 38 (68%)
Italy 38 (68%)
France 34 (61%)
Japan 31 (55%)
Great Britain 28 (50%)
Canada 27 (48%)
US 23 (41%)
Mexico 21 (38%)
It is essential that knowledge builds and that repetition is avoided as the core curriculum is developed. Repetition has dogged the geography curriculum in recent years because it was developed piecemeal and without an holistic overview 5-14. Core knowledge should be sequenced carefully, reinforced and developed through all Key Stages.
Field studies are an essential part of developing a geographical understanding and we strongly urge the government to continue field studies as a required part of the geography curriculum in all phases.
The Society recommends that there is exemplification of the core content of the geography curriculum, and professional development training available, to support all teachers in the provision of high quality lessons. We are more than willing to contribute our expertise to this process.
The Society would also expect to see good, and progressive, use made of maps, from paper maps to online interactive mapping and GIS. For example, all geography classes – whether in the primary or secondary phase – should display and regularly use a world map and, where appropriate, UK mapping, for lessons.
We would also wish to see maps used to identify and locate countries and events being taught in other parts of the curriculum.
We also recommend that geography teachers are encouraged to draw on the factual content of recent events relating to the geography curriculum to reinforce pupils’ engagement with the core knowledge, understanding and skills of geography and their sense of evidence-based enquiry.
The most important factor is to develop the curriculum in an holistic manner and in one go, to ensure progression in the development of core knowledge, understanding and skills.
Transition projects could be usefully developed using geographical fieldwork to enable young people moving across KS2 to KS3 to investigate and better understand their local areas through fieldwork. This could build from the immediate neighbourhood in the primary years to a more detailed geographical understanding of the pupil’s local and regional areas.
The negative impact of integrating geography with other subjects (Ofsted February 2011) in many primary schools presents real issues for transition. It means that some pupils may for the first time encounter geography taught as a distinct subject discipline only at KS3. The Society recommends a greater focus on subjectspecialist teaching of geography as an individual subject in Years 5 and 6 to ensure that primary pupils both have a good understanding of fundamentals of geography (and other subjects) and are better prepared for progression to KS3.
The Society would welcome greater involvement of the learned and professional societies in the review of future examination specifications. This would help ensure that the Awarding Bodies develop new specifications that reflect the up-to-date key knowledge and understanding for a discipline and also the subject specific skills relevant to the workplace. For example, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), as the learned and professional society for geography, acts in a unique role that spans all the key stakeholders across this subject discipline; in business, professional geographers, in Higher Education and schools.
The Society believes that the practice of chief examiners writing ‘recommended’ text books for Awarding Bodies, that link directly to a specific examination, tends to support a narrowing in the use of case studies and areas of study, rather than encouraging teachers to draw on their professional judgement.
A second vitally important factor is to ensure that head teachers and the teaching practitioner community invests in subject-specific professional development in order for teachers to stay up to date in their subject and its pedagogy.
That (meaningful) fieldwork continues to be a statutory requirement for geography at GCSE; and that there is an evaluation (by Ofsted) of the impact on geographical fieldwork of the changes to controlled assessment introduced two years ago. We believe those changes may well have reduced both quantity and quality of fieldwork in geography, to the detriment of teaching and learning in this subject.
Good preparation of pupils at Key Stage 3
The Society is concerned about compressed KS3 courses which reduce the content of KS3 into two years (with no corresponding expansion of teaching time) and also of the negative impact of ‘integrated’ and ‘skills based’ approaches to learning – as identified by Ofsted (February 2011). We also raise the issue of teaching by non-subject specialists at KS3, a situation that is likely to worsen when GCSE performance in EBacc subjects is being measured. All of these factors affect pupils’ readiness and enthusiasm for transition to KS4.
Studying geography serves pupils well in moving on from school to further study and/or the workplace. For example
A survey by Esri UK, the leading Geographical Information Systems business, (published November 2010) of 200 business leaders across the UK public and private sectors showed that the graduate skills/knowledge they are looking for in future employees are critical thinking (78% of businesses leaders), advanced analytical skills (76%), understanding and interpreting complex data (71%), advanced technology skills (57%) and understanding socio-economic environments (54%) – all of which are gained through a geography degree.
The most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) survey of university graduates (2010) showed the unemployment rates for geographers to be among the lowest recorded, second to law. Geography also scores very highly on student satisfaction studies.
A recent study of a random sample from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey showed geography graduates to be relatively well placed in the workforce.
Entry to Higher Education courses in geography courses has remained steady over the past ten years despite the decline in numbers studying geography at GCSE. In 2010, c5,000 young people commenced a degree course in single honours geography and many more in joint honours courses. This illustrates the appetite among young people for more advanced study in geography.
Learned societies working within their subject disciplines and their respective employer sectors are best placed to support transition to higher education and to highlight the contribution of their subject to further study at Higher Education and in the work place. For example, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Geography Ambassador project provides more than 1,000 presentations a year to 30,000 geography pupils highlighting the nature of geography in university and the types of jobs individuals who have studied geography secure. The Ambassadors are mainly current geography undergraduates or graduate geographers who have recently entered the workplace. They act as knowledgeable and inspirational role models for pupils from all backgrounds.
The need for clarity for practitioners as to timing and expectations.
The need for timely and accessible professional development for teachers in subject-based teaching and learning, including in up to date subject knowledge – the timing of development to be in phase with the introduction. Subject knowledge has been identified as a weakness in some geography teaching; and it is vital if teachers are to grasp the new opportunities presented by the new curriculum.
The availability of qualified subject-specialist teachers, as schools respond at the same time and positively to the EBacc, leading to an increase in student numbers taking subjects such as geography and history.
Making the most of the core and further ‘flexible’ learning:
We like the idea of the core knowledge making up c60-70% of the geography curriculum, with the remainder of the time being available for teachers to reinforce, deepen and extend their pupil’s knowledge and understanding in ways that they see fit. This could, for example, provides the opportunities for teachers to develop lessons through which their pupils can apply their geographical knowledge to relevant events in the news; or in ways that relate to the composition of the local communities or to economic development in the region.
In this context we make two points:
1. It is important that this 30-40% of ‘flexible’ time is actually included/timetabled in the curriculum by schools.
2. We suggest that guidance is provided in relation to teaching and learning of geography at Key Stages 1-3 beyond the core curriculum topics. While we welcome teachers’ flexibility to choose what to teach beyond the core learning, we would not wish to see the geography learning experience become polarised into two realms – the core curriculum topics and ‘topical geographical studies’. Advice and guidance on how to structure teaching and learning beyond the core curriculum will be required.
Professional accreditation of teachers:
The welcome return to a focus on subject disciplines, and the requirement this places on a teacher being up to date in their subject knowledge, we feel there is much merit in raising the profile of the existing subject-based teaching accreditations. Relevant professional accreditations (eg Chartered Geographer (Teacher)), governed by the Privy Council and which demand year on year professional development currently exist for specialist teachers in geography, sciences, mathematics, English and forthcoming for history
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