Our response to the DfE welcomes a clearer progression in content and framework from Key Stage 1 - 3 to GCSE. We also suggest formalising requirements for quantitative skills in geography, and the use of short annual fieldwork returns.
Response submitted 2013
Yes. The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is pleased to have provided advice to the Department for Education in the drafting of the Geography GCSE subject content and assessment objectives. The Society welcomes the consultation proposals for Geography GCSE content and assessment objectives and would like to make the following comments.
Progression and conceptual framework
We greatly welcome the fact that there is clear progression in both the conceptual framework and in the content from Key Stages 1 to 3 into the proposed GCSE. This is a vital improvement on the previous curriculum, and it is essential that this is maintained throughout the review process, and built on further in the A level review. The conceptual framework at GCSE builds on the focus at Key Stage 3 on understanding human and physical processes as they shape our world and its environments. GCSE takes the understanding of processes a step forward, and focuses on the nature and causes of change in societies and environments and of complex people environment interactions. Furthermore, at GCSE new topics are introduced that best meet this conceptual framework while still also retaining a broad balance between human and physical geography and introducing integrated study.
It is essential in our view that any further amendments of the draft GCSE subject criteria are made within this conceptual framework and continue to meet the requirement for progression in content as well as framework.
Balance across the discipline
The Society welcomes a rebalancing of the coverage of physical geography content in the proposed content. The two physical; two human and two integrated sections that are proposed provide an appropriate balance and coverage of this discipline.
The option to extend modestly beyond specified content
It is a decision for Awarding Organisations to decide how best the identified content is ordered and arranged as part of their specification. However, the Society would welcome an explicit statement that while the Awarding Organisations must meet the identified content, they can, if they wish, go beyond the content outlined in the consultation materials, provided the criteria set out in (1) above are met and that there is rigour and depth in the manner in which the specified content is included. A small amount of flexibility in this regard may provide the Awarding Bodies greater opportunity to differentiate their products and to respond, modestly, to teacher wishes. There should, however, not be an attempt to include ‘everything’ within the content and any additional content should provide a similar level of demand and be coherent with progression in geography and the conceptual approach for this subject at GCSE, as set out in (1).
(The Society notes that the principle of an AO developing a specification that includes content beyond that which is specified may also be a general issue for all subject areas.)
Feedback from teachers has strongly supported the recommendation that fieldwork is undertaken ‘in at least two contrasting environments’. A number of teachers have indicated that this would increase the range and extent of geographical fieldwork that they undertake. The Society endorses that view.
Mathematics, statistics and quantitative skills in geography
Geography has an important and distinctive role to play in supporting pupils’ use of mathematics, statistics and quantitative skills; and the discipline has the ability to set such skills in a meaningful and real-world context. Geography has long included statistical and numerical approaches as part of a wide range of methodologies, as recognised in the geography benchmark in higher education.
Former geography GCSE (and A Level) criteria have ‘signalled’ the discipline’s role in enhancing young peoples’ understanding of mathematics, statistics and other quantitative skills and have sometimes required the use of specific techniques or approaches. However, we do not believe previous criteria and specifications have identified the full extent of geography’s contribution or indeed helped establish a consistent approach across the awarding bodies. For example, in the report Mathematics and A Level Assessment (Nuffield 2012) it was noted that in geography, “we found considerable variation between Awarding Organisations on mathematical coverage.”
We note the explicit requirement for mathematic techniques to be identified in GCSE (and A Level) sciences and believe that the current review of GCSE provides the opportunity to formalise similar requirements within geography.
The Society recommends the explicit identification of key mathematical, statistical and quantitative techniques that support a pupil’s progression through GCSE geography (and separately at a more advanced level within A Level geography). This is entirely consistent with the current and well-reported calls from employers and higher education for a better grounding in quantitative and statistical methods, and their application, in students going on to university and to the workplace.
The Society proposes that the following provides a relevant and achievable range of mathematical, statistical and cartographic techniques that should be part of every pupil’s experience of GCSE geography.
The Society suggests that this should form an additional section of the Subject Content and Assessment for GCSE Geography titled: Mathematical, statistical and cartographic skills in geography
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).
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.
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.
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.
The Society feels the following drafting changes would improve the document, aiding readability and clarity of meaning, and consistency with other subject specifications:
Subject aims and learning outcomes: we have four suggestions here:
1. Text - “GCSE specifications in geography should provide the opportunity for students to understand more about the world, their place within it, and the challenges it faces.”
Comment - At the heart of the revised GCSE Geography is the need for pupils to understand how geographical processes combine and interconnect to bring about geographical change. Therefore, it is necessary for a clear recognition of geographical change be included in the Aims and Learning Outcomes.
2. Text - At the end of the first paragraph add the following sentence: “Geography enables young people to be globally and environmentally informed, thoughtful and enquiring citizens.”
Comment: It is important to recognise that there is an outcome for individuals and for society as a whole through the study of geography as a discipline. History is also recognised in this way.
3. Text - "GCSE specifications for the discipline of geography should enable students to:...”
Comment - The inclusion of the term ‘discipline’ may also be appropriate for other GCSE subjects that have a recognised academic disciplinary focus and tradition. GCSE provides the appropriate level to introduce pupils to academic disciplines as both a body of knowledge and an approach to study and understanding through a specific subject perspective. The Society would welcome, across geography and other relevant subjects, a clear recognition of the importance of disciplinary approaches at GCSE.
4. Text - The deletion of the following phrases: ‘know geographical material’, ‘think like a geographer’, ‘study like a geographer’ and ‘understand the application of geography’.
Comment - The tone of this terminology is not in keeping with the rest of the document and neither are such words included in other subject areas, such as history. Society feels it is inconsistent, patronising and unhelpful to include such phrases within geography and they should be deleted. We feel that these phrases, which are not found in any other subject criteria, suggest a lack of confidence in the discipline and are not particularly helpful to parents or pupils. Recognising that they may be of some use to AOs we suggest this wording is retained in the separate instructions for AOs but deleted from the main criteria document.
Yes. The Society welcomes the spread of assessment objectives across knowledge, understanding, skills and the application of geography and the general weighting. The Society strongly argues for a clear and equal balance of human, physical and integrated geography across the different assessment opportunities.
Specifically, the Society would not wish to see physical geography (in relation to human geography) diminished and/or physical geography ‘diluted’ through an over-emphasis on ‘integrated’ approaches within assessment opportunities.
In addition, the Society welcomes the identification that 15% of the marks for GCSE geography should be linked to:
1. The skills needed to respond to fieldwork data and contexts (5%).
2. The application of geography to fieldwork context(s) (10%).
Reinforcing the new level of demand necessary for the revised GCSE Geography through assessment.
The Society recognises that the new GCSE for geography should demonstrate and carry through better balance and greater demand compared with recent predecessors. The Society believes that the revised content provides for this.
The Society wishes, however, to see greater demand in the styles of assessment, to include more extended writing, thereby reinforcing the newly established higher demand in the qualification as a whole.
However, only a thorough assessment of the sample materials provided by AOs can provide proper evidence that the new level of balance and demand has be established and will be carried through into the examinations that pupils will take in future years.
Given the Society’s involvement with the Department on the reform of GCSE geography, neither the Society’s staff nor its Trustees have taken up invitations to support AOs in their responses to the new context for GCSE and A Level. This position has also been communicated to Ofqual.
Therefore, if appropriate, the Society would be pleased to discuss with the Department and/or Ofqual how its expertise might help support the review and validation of the new GCSE specifications.
Do you have any other suggestions to verify that fieldwork has taken place beyond the classroom and school grounds?
The Society strongly supports the proposal that a school should submit a short annual declaration about fieldwork to their AO (and that a similar annual declaration be also made in relation to A Level geography).
For the absence of doubt the Society believes that all AOs should send identically worded letters to their schools and if aggregated results are provided (see below) that these are done in a similar way across AOs.
This is a ‘light touch’ check and balance, which realistically should not take a geography teacher & their head teacher more than a few minutes to complete, sign and post. Society does not believe it introduces any unnecessary additional paper work. Indeed, the move from internal /controlled assessment to 100% external assessment frees a significant amount of time and administration that would have been taken up by both a teacher and their AO in undertaking Controlled Assessment.
In addition, the Society believes that this would also provide AOs with useful, and on-going, intelligence on the type, range and extent of fieldwork undertaken by their schools, and the locations visited. Furthermore, the knowledge derived from such annual returns should help underpin a more informed development of ‘fieldwork’ examination questions.
A number of teachers have positively commented on this suggestion, noting that it would raise the profile of geographical fieldwork with their senior management teams. The suggestion helps to overcome a very real risk that in moving to 100% terminal examinations it becomes much more difficult for subject teachers to make the case for fieldwork to their management teams.
In the public interest, there is also a case that the annual fieldwork return should be made public on a schools website, to inform parents, and aggregated returns published by each AO.
The proposed content and skills build appropriately on the geography National Curriculum Key Stages 1-3. It introduces a progression in the conceptual framework, and linked to that new areas of study and approaches to geography and a higher level demand in relation to its assessment, as set out in earlier.
Not sure. The proposed qualification will certainly secure sound progression in conceptual framework, content, and assessment onwards from Key Stages 1 to 3.
It is highly desirable that GCSE is further built upon in the (GCE) A Level specifications since there is now considerable overlap between the new draft GCSE criteria and current A Level specifications. This has arisen because the level of demand has been raised and proper conceptual and content progression introduced from Key Stages 1 to 4.
In the absence of published materials from the AOs in relation to their proposals for revised specifications for A Level geography, the Society is unable at this time to make an informed judgement concerning progression from GCSE geography into A Level.
The Society has already offered to review, independently and objectively, the range of A Level specifications drafted by the AOs, drawing on an advisory group that spans higher education, employers, and selected leading teachers.
Not sure. The application of literacy through the study and assessment of other disciplines is always a helpful reinforcement and potentially engages a wider range of students through disciplines that they are passionate about.
With this thought in mind, opportunities in the assessment of geography for extended writing are particularly important and welcome
No. Please see the Society’s earlier comments (in section 4.) about the importance of providing greater specification in relation to the use of graphical, numerical and statistical skills (that is, quantitative methods) in geography.
No. The Society recognises that for pupils with mobility or access requirements that geographical fieldwork may present some challenges. However, the proposals do not provide any significantly new requirements for fieldwork, other than the identification that fieldwork should take place in at least two contrasting environments. The Society believes that teachers can plan engaging and accessible fieldwork that meets the needs of their pupils within this context.
Do the proposed subject content and assessment objectives for mathematics cover the appropriate knowledge and understanding for GCSEs in this subject?
See comments [on Science, below]. We suggest that mathematical requirements for the study of geography are set out in the geography criteria a manner similar to the way in which mathematical requirements for the study of science are.
Do the proposed subject content and assessment objectives for science, which includes biology, chemistry, physics and combined science, cover the appropriate knowledge and understanding for GCSEs in these subjects?
The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) positively notes the identification of the mathematics and other quantitative methods necessary to study the sciences as explicit elements of the GCSE content for these subjects.
The Society believe there is much merit in adopting the same approach in relation to the mathematics and quantitative skills needed within a geography GCSE and would welcome further discussions with DfE to help identify the relevant skills and how they might be best presented within geography. Please see [our comments on geography above].
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