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Primary geography loses its way

Most trainee primary teachers spend just 10 hours learning to teach geography on postgraduate certificate in education courses, a new survey has found.

Geography is the weakest subject in primaries, says Ofsted. Pupils did well in the subject in only a third of schools inspected between September 2003 and April 2005.

Professor Simon Catling, assistant dean of the Westminster institute of education at Oxford Brookes university, surveyed 50 PGCE courses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

He found trainees learnt no geography on three courses and on two others half did geography and half history. The remaining 45 higher education institutions offered geography but it accounted for 1.5 per cent of the course.

Professor Catling, who presented his findings at the Geographical Association conference yesterday, said: "About 40 per cent of primary PGCE trainees gave up geography aged 14. We want to encourage and enthuse them.

The vast majority are willing but the difficulty is that we tickle their interest and they say 'sorry that's all we've got time for'.

"There is very little time spent on teaching geography or other foundation subjects compared to English, maths and science. The fundamental reason is the institutions don't have the staff and have to make choices about what they can provide.

"I would recommend a minimum of 15 hours on geography. There are institutions which do this so it is not unrealistic."

He hopes that proposed changes to the standards trainees must meet to become teachers will help. Primary trainees can get qualified teacher status with sufficient understanding of either history or geography.

However, draft standards say trainees must understand the curricula for all subjects they teach.

Consultation on the new standards is expected to start next month.

He suggested as time was limited on PGCE courses heads could offer staff in-service subject-based training.

A pound;2 million action plan for geography (see story below) includes an aim to provide more training for primary teachers, especially subject leaders.

Professor Catling said: "The action plan means developing a website for continuing professional development for teachers. It will be a drop in the ocean to begin with but it has the potential to support young teachers and that is the way forward for real long-term development."

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