Talking geography's language

The aftermath of September 11 has forced politicians to reconsider the links between physical and social processes that shape the modern world. Tony Blair himself has acknowledged that "interdependence defines the new world we live in". Lessons in citizenship and education for sustainable development are seen as increasingly important by the Department for Education and Skills. They may not know it, but politicians and policy-makers are adopting the geographer's vocabulary.

There are signs that others are beginning to see the benefits of school geography. A resurgence of support has been signalled in the House of Lords, in the media and in the subject associations and agencies. A report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority last year described geography as a "popular and respected subject in the school curriculum" and one of the most "significant optional subjects for 14 to 19-year-olds". With the 14-19 Education Green Paper out for consultation and the Education Bill on its way through Parliament, the crucial question is whether new legislation will safeguard the subject's future.

Geography ranks as the highest optional GCSE subject, with 253,756 pupils electing to study it in 2001. This is not surprising: it is about the world in which we live and on which we depend. It provides a unique bridge between the physical environment and society and cultures. Through geography, children learn that decisions and people far removed from them will influence their lives, which teaches them important lessons about global interconnection. The government's Education Bill, now under scrutiny in the Lords, threatens to marginalise geography with its emphasis on literacy, numeracy and vocational subjects. It is in the Lords that there has been wide support for a broad and balanced curriculum and geography's place in it. Two Amendments for discussion have put geography into the Bill as a foundation subject for key stage 4.

The 14-19 Green Paper also raises concerns about the future of geography. It mentions an "entitlement to a subject in the humanities" at age 14-16, but this by no means requires schools to offer students geography or history beyond the age of 14. Indeed, "humanities" can be widely interpreted, and could allow schools to stop teaching both geography and history altogether. "Entitlement to access" could mean geography and history only being offered by neighbouring schools or over the internet.

Geographical education is strongly supported by its subject associations, the Geographical Association and the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers. The curriculum content has recently been examined to make sure it is motivating, challenging and relevant. We now need to ensure that there is sufficient freedom of access to the subject in all schools, so that geography remains a realistic option for all children.

Elliot Robertson is policy officer for the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British-Geographers)

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