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Geography is too out of this world

Geography is the worst taught subject in the curriculum and evidence points to deteriorating lesson quality, according to inspectors.

Pupils are not learning about important global issues such as climate change, floods and famine, Ofsted found in a review of the subject at primary and secondary levels.

Teachers need to put aside concerns about health and safety and timetabling to take pupils on more field trips, inspectors said. Poor behaviour, high costs and cultural barriers - particularly with regard to Muslim girls - were cited as preventing schools from running trips.

Primary teachers, in particular, have little confidence in teaching the subject and scant opportunity to improve their skills.

In secondary schools, key stage 3 pupils described the subject as boring, and while results at GCSE and A-level remain good, numbers opting to take geography at KS4, after the age of 14, are still on the wane.

The report states: "The global dimension remains underdeveloped in the majority of schools surveyed. Frequently, insufficient connections are made between the wider curriculum and the geography curriculum to reinforce pupils' understanding of issues such as global citizenship, diversity, human rights and sustainable development."

The Middle East conflict, water shortages and disputes over oil should also be tackled by geography teachers, inspectors said.

"If the aspiration of schools is to create pupils who are active and well- rounded citizens, there is no more relevant subject than geography," the report says.

Last year, the Government sent schools copies of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's climate change film, to help them teach the subject.

But following a recent court judgment that the film contained inaccuracies, the National Union of Teachers has written to ministers and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority asking them to clear up the confusion and give teachers dedicated guidance on how to teach about climate change.

According to Ofsted, geography was the worst taught subject in 2004-05, which is the most recent set of national data.

Professor David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said the report was disappointing, but that a lot of work had been done in the past two years to improve the situation.

He added that the review of the KS3 curriculum was "momentous news" because it gave teachers time to take a more creative approach. A two-year geography action plan was improving standards. He also praised schools carrying out a pilot geography GCSE, which places more emphasis on global topics.

Reel life

Geography teachers are being encouraged to submit 60-second films to a festival being organised by the Geographical Association.

The festival, to be held in Surrey on March 27, aims to promote understanding of the natural world.

Winners of the directors' competition will win prizes for themselves and their schools worth up to pound;1,200.

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