That was geography, that was

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

This is how the draft national curriculum specification for geography begins:

A high-quality geography education should inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Teaching should equip pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and environments, together with a deep understanding of the Earth’s key physical and human processes. As pupils progress, their growing knowledge about the world helps them to deepen their understanding of the interaction between physical and human processes, and of the formation of landscapes and environments. Geographical knowledge provides the tools and approaches that explain how the Earth’s features at different scales are shaped, interconnected and change over time.

The National Curriculum for geography aims to ensure that all pupils:

  • develop knowledge of the location of places of global significance, their defining physical and human characteristics and how they relate to one another; this place knowledge should provide a sound context for understanding geographical processes
  • understand the processes that give rise to key physical and human geographical features of the world, how these are interdependent and how they bring about spatial variation and change over time
  • are competent in the geographical skills needed to:
  1. collect, analyse and communicate with a range of data gathered through experiences of fieldwork that deepen their understanding of geographical processes
  2. interpret a range of sources of geographical information, including maps, globes, aerial photographs and Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  3. communicate geographical information in a variety of ways, including through maps and writing at length

Whilst all this sounds reassuringly familiar, whatever became of geography's position in the vanguard of exploring sustainability?  Maybe it's in the subject content?  Well, no it isn't.  Maybe it will be at GCSE?  Well, let's hope so, but that's rather late, particularly for those not taking GCSE geography.

Enthusiastic teachers will squeeze sustainability in, of course, but that's not the point.  Whither leadership from the top?  What about encouragement?  Where's the mandate to explore and empower?  Was the GA consulted at all?  GIS aside, it's not just the geography content that makes all this feel like the 1950s.  In fact it's all so timeless that it reminds me of the Sabre-toothed curriculum.  Indeed, the whole national curriculum revision looks that way, and the cynic in me has pushed his way to the fore and suggests that this is all a cunning Govian plan to push schools towards Academy status where, of course, none of this matters, as I noted last week.  There was a report in the Independent a week or so ago suggesting that other "incentives" [my word] were being put in place by the DfE to ease reluctant schools into the Brave New Academy World which is, of course, good for them, if only they knew it.  Shades of false consciousness here.

Whilst I've just about given up on the national curriculum, what the English education system is for may well be something worth talking about.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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  • I could not agree more with your dismay at the 'rear-view mirror' direction of both the blurb on geography and the fragmented national curriculum as a whole within an educational system that fails to educate about the most pressing issue of our times - the need to re-set the way we think about the interconnected processes that threaten survival of sentient species including our own. The exponential linearity of "take-make-waste" economics is increasingly being challenged organic systems thinking that advocates "cirular economies" that mimic how natural systems are sustained. Geography with its broad multi-disciplinary traditions and its focus on "the interaction between physical and human processes", should be a suitable location for encouraging systemic thinking about the interconnections between human and natural systems; linear and organic processes; unsustainable and sustainable futures, not simply "the formation of landscapes and environments". Gove and Co need to start living in the Anthropcene rather than the world as it was before the Great Acceleration of human impact on the planet.