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Changes to GCSE geography

New specifications for GCSE geography are to be introduced in September 2001. Changes include increased use of ICT, which will be required by all GCSE geography specifications and will also feature in the scheme of assessment (within the internal assessment) of all GCSE geography courses. Although there will be some changes to the current GCSE syllabuses, the changes required are relatively modest. Many aspects will be unchanged and the aims, assessment objectives and content (including the requirement for fieldwork) will also remain largely unaffected.

All GCSE geography courses will continue to require balanced coverage of physical, human and environmental aspects of the subject. As far as assessment is concerned, the weightings for internal (20-25 per cent) and external (75-80 per cent) assessment will remain as they are, as will the tiering arrangements for the examination papers.

Most of the changes that have been made reflect those in the national curriculum programme of study for key stage 3. The changes should help to secure continuity and progression between courses at KS3 and 4.

The criteria now include explicit references to sustainable development. All specifications will therefore include consideration of sustainable development across a wide range of geography topics, such as settlement ad natural hazards. Interdependence and global citizenship are also given a higher profile, and decision-making skills will be included.

Following their introduction in the new AS and A-level specifications, key skills (at levels 1 and 2) are introduced into GCSE specifications in all subjects. Specifications will therefore "signpost" opportunities for developing and generating evidence for assessing all six key skills. As at AS and A-level, such opportunities abound throughout the specifications. Schools and colleges will receive the new specifications by the end of December, and they will also be available on the awarding bodies' websites.

Many schools may simply wish to adopt the specification that most closely resembles the one they are using now. Others may wish to look afresh at the range of specifications on offer and revamp their post-14 geography. The key lies in the successful translation of the specification into an effective teaching programme that meets the needs of all pupils, engages their interest and builds on the knowledge, skills and understanding that they have developed during KS3.

John Westaway and Barbara Jones are principal subject officers, geography, at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 83 Piccadilly, London W1J 8QA. Tel: 020 7509 5555. Web:

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