Dr Rita Gardner, the Society’s Director, discusses the challenges and opportunities facing teachers implementing the new National Curriculum for geography, which will be first taught this September. This is an extract of an article published by TES Connect.
The new geography National Curriculum has more content, more demand and rigour at all phases. In my view that is to be welcomed. Progression has been built in from Key Stage 1 through to GCSE, and repetition has been removed. There is a better balance between human and physical geography, a more scientific approach is expected in physical geography, and there is greater depth in the study of the UK. Fieldwork features at all Key Stages, reflecting its essential contribution to learning geography. A strengthening of skills requirements, and their applications, also flows through all phases, so for example at Key Stage 2 pupils will be using Ordnance Survey maps, while quantitative skills are being strengthened at GCSE.
Understandably, some teachers, especially non-specialists at primary and KS3, will find the changes challenging. It is vital that teachers are supported with new resources and professional development opportunities, since geography is one of the subjects with substantial curriculum change. Some secondary schools may face the need to employ more specialist geography teachers, while more primary schools may seek specialist geography coordinators. With the recent, and very welcome, substantial increases in the uptake of Geography at GCSE and A Level, universities will be challenged to encourage well qualified graduates into teaching and attention will be required to ensure the training systems recognise and cater for this.
While the curriculum identifies the content and skills, it will be for teachers to combine the different elements of geography to create their own schemes of work. This provides the freedom for teachers to make their geography as engaging and interesting as they can. During the review of the National Curriculum some questions were raised about whether certain topics, such as glaciation or soils at Key Stage 3, could be genuinely interesting or relevant to pupils. I would argue we cannot understand the UK’s landscape without appreciating glacial processes or the immense power of ice sheets. Nor can we consider how to feed the world’s 7 billion people without understanding how those few fragile centimetres of the earth’s surface – the soil - is an irreplaceable resource providing the physical structure, water and a continual cycling of nutrients for plant growth.
The outcome of the curriculum changes will surely be worth it; the opportunities are great. The value of our discipline will be recognised more widely. Geography will gain a higher status in schools and with the public and parents. Geography will sustain its (high) popularity at university and, taking note of the current A Level review, students will be better prepared for university study. The high levels of existing demand in the workforce for geographical knowledge and skills will be met with school leavers who understand an integrated approach to the world’s people, places, environments and resources.
Perhaps most important of all, the enrichment of our lives with the capacity to understand and to evaluate what is going on in the world around us, locally and globally, and a curiosity about the amazing world in which we live, will remain with us all. For that to happen, we must invest in teachers’ professional development to meet the new demands. After all, a passionate and knowledgeable teacher can fire up a pupil’s enthusiasm for our subject to last a lifetime.