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Geography world turned upside down;Briefing;Research Focus

It might seem axiomatic that a better-qualifed teacher would be more effective in the primary classroom. Not so, according to a challenging study. David Budge reports

A new analysis of geography teaching in primary schools challenges the commonsense view that effective teachers are invariably well-qualified and have received ample in-service training.

The study suggests that the most successful schools tend to have a geography co-ordinator who has not studied the subject up to A-level. Equally surprisingly, it found that co-ordinators in primaries where geography was taught most effectively had had relatively little in-service training.

The research was conducted by Wendy Garner, a lecturer at Liverpool Hope University College, who concludes that it is the quality of the geography co-ordinators' planning - rather than their qualifications or in-service work - that is most likely to improve schools' performance.

The findings are bound to be challenged, partly because Garner's study covered only 20 primaries in the north-west of England. But they echo the conclusions of a major report on effective teachers of numeracy that a team from King's College London produced for the Teacher Training Agency last autumn. That research established that children made slower progress in maths, on average, if their teacher had an A-level in the subject.

Garner interviewed the geography co-ordinators in each school and collected examples of their medium and long-term planning. She then scrutinised schools' OFSTED reports and classified them as either "higher scoring" or "lower scoring" after consulting three inspectors.

She found that 30 per cent of geography co-ordinators in the lower-scoring schools had an A-level in the subject, compared with only 20 per cent in the higher-scoring primaries.

Overall, 30 per cent of co-ordinators had a geography degree, but only two-thirds of them were working in the more effective schools. Co-ordinators with a post-graduate qualification in geography did not always push up standards either. They were just as likely to be found in the lower-scoring schools.

Garner was also surprised by the inverse relationship between in-service training and the quality of the teaching and learning. Co-ordinators in the lower-scoring schools had received 13 days' training on average, whereas their colleagues in more successful schools had had only eight.

The study did, however, indicate that thorough planning paid dividends. "Long-term planning from higher-scoring schools was more likely to include skills units showing progression and to cover teaching areas which went beyond the explicit requirements of the national curriculum," Garner says.

"The medium-term planning frameworks associated with the more successful schools tended to state learning outcomes, integrate skills, places and themes, outline activities which could be undertaken with the children, and suggest ideas for assessing children's learning."

Garner says her research raises new doubts about the "value for money" offered by initial qualifications and in-service training. She also believes three questions now need to be answered:

* Do some teachers need more time and advisory support in school to enable them to harness their expertise?

* Are some co-ordinators more motivated to apply their INSET experience?

* How important are personal qualities?

Contact: Wendy Garner, Liverpool Hope University College, Hope Park, Liverpool, L16 9JD, tel. 0151-291 3044 e-mail

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