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John Simkin

Geography Teaching

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Article in today's Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1358985,00.html

Children are being put off geography by poor teaching that focuses on facts rather than helping to develop an understanding of big issues such as sustainability and globalisation, the education watchdog Ofsted said yesterday.

According to school inspectors the subject has become "neglected and marginalised", with the number of pupils taking the geography GCSE having fallen by a third in the past eight years.

The problem is most acute in primary schools where teachers lack the skills to make the subject interesting and relevant, and often even avoid it in favour of areas where they feel more confident, says Ofsted.

In secondary education, teachers are overwhelmingly focused on helping students pass GCSE and A-level exams, leaving children up to the age of 14 to "stagnate" and grow uninterested in the subject, add the inspectors.

But Ofsted found pupils have been responding well to a new GCSE course, in a pilot scheme in about 50 schools, that was not "overloaded with content" and which allowed children to submit poems, posters and models as part of their coursework.

Yesterday the chief inspector of schools, David Bell, called on more teachers to inspire pupils with the subject so that they enjoyed the subject and understood its relevance.

"Geography enables us to understand change, conflict and the key issues which impact on our lives today and will affect our futures tomorrow," he said. "Our inspectors have found that there has been a relative decline in geography in recent years, with the picture particularly stark in primary schools."

Ofsted said fieldwork trips, often the most popular aspect of geography, had declined rapidly, with many pupils having no chance to test their work outside the classroom. "We need to engage pupils more purposefully in geography and make them realise the relevance and value of the subject and, most important of all, ensure that they enjoy it."

But Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it was unfair to blame teachers. "There is no appreciation of the root causes of this problem. Teachers would love to spend more time on geography and the other humanities subjects but they are prevented from doing so because of an overloaded curriculum and a narrow focus on getting children to pass tests in core subjects."

Justin Woolliscroft, a geography teacher at Kingsmead technology college, near Cannock, in Staffordshire, is one of those testing the new GCSE.

"This new course has undoubtedly made a huge difference to the children I teach," he said. "The course encourages them to think for themselves and they are responding extremely well.

"It links geography to their own lives and is not based exclusively on written exams and assessment, but allows pupils to express themselves in more creative ways."

The pilot focuses on five concepts - uneven development, interdependence, sustainability, futures, and globalisation - and relates them to three themes which include life in the UK, extreme environments and consumers.

Last night the director of the Royal Geographical Society, Rita Gardner, said: "Geography is still the second most popular option when children choose which subjects to study at GCSE - until this year it was the most popular. I cannot think of a more relevant and important subject because as citizens and employees ... we need to understand the world, its societies, its environment and its places, and the way in which these interact and bring about change."

· The former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson, now leading a review of exams for 14- to 19-year-olds, yesterday said the standard of written English by GCSE and A-level pupils had deteriorated to an all-time low. It was hard to defend a system that gave students full marks despite poor spelling and grammar, he said.

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I studied Geography at A Level with some unexpected success.

I suspect however that the Media is really interested in the sort of nonsense that sees Geography as the ability to know and recite the names of Places and Continents on instruction --- overall somewhat a less interesting debate, if it were possible, than even the predominant debate here on the fate of the ex- President :unsure:

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