The "16-19" advanced level geography syllabus goes from strength to strength, steadily attracting more candidates and vigorously disseminating its distinctive view of the subject. The editors of the handsome 317 page Core Geography summarise this as a "concern with matters of immediate and critical significance for the quality of life on earth" and an active engagement in enquiry into "the questions, issues and problems that arise from the interaction of people with their varied environments". This understanding of geography may indeed have become the received wisdom within geographical education, but it is still not the view from outside.
The popularity of the 16 - 19 syllabus is especially impressive, since it is very challenging in terms of workload. Students are required to investigate complex environmental issues, as individual projects and within the examination framework. Teachers have to maintain a resource bank which needs to be locally relevant and permanently up-dated. However, the syllabus is increasingly well supported by published material.
The Options booklets serve a dual purpose. Each booklet (around 50 A4 pages) provides a specific case-study, illustrating one of the course's six broad themes. Hawkhurst Moor by Judith Woodfield and Gillian Beasley and Growing Gatwick, the most recent addition to the series, also provide a model of how an environmental issue may be tackled, demonstrating the need for focus, structure, sequence and the assembling of diverse kinds of evidence.
Vincent Bunce's contribution, Growing Gatwick, like the earlier study of a colliery issue, conveys the intractable nature of such issues - amenity versus employment, national needs versus local preferences, and so on. Much of the material is presented graphically and students are invited to analyse the data as they are skilfully guided through the debate.
The core text deploys a team of six authors. The book's layout closely mirrors the 16-19 modular programme, with around 50 large pages allocated to each major theme. Despite the wide-ranging scope - from Landforms to Industrial Change - a remarkably consistent corporate style is achieved. Each section uses domestic, European and global instances to illuminate the issues. "The Challenge of Urbanisation", for instance, examines processes of urban growth, decay and dispersal in Bournemouth, Paris, Moscow, Atlanta, Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong. The authors have sufficient elbow room to incorporate reasonably substantial studies, such as the analysis of land consolidation and landscape change in Cyprus, in the admirably incisive section on "Changing Agricultural Systems".
If one hallmark of the 16-19 approach is the range of scales deployed, another is topicality. This leads to a generous provision of extracts from newspapers and magazines. A collage approach has in fact become the most predictable characteristic of mainstream school geography texts, and it's not without its problems. All texts, of course, start to obsolesce even before publication, but the collage strategy can ensure that obsolescence is prominently signalled on virtually every page. Reliance on cuttings to convey topicality may also tend to marginalise the author and fragment the text, impeding the continuous flow of an argument. Although all six sections are very well organised, those on Agriculture and Ecosystems gain somewhat in readability from their more sparing use of extracts.
Similarly, those sections which respond to the inevitable constraints of space by restricting their scope, gain in coherence. "The Use and Misuse of Natural Resources", by concentrating entirely on energy, is particularly effective here.
All the contributors clearly share the 16-19 emphasis on personal enquiry. Students working through this invaluable handbook will be supplied with background, methodology and - most importantly- motivation to embark on their own investigations.