Aim for the peaks or make glacial progress

18th January 2008 at 00:00
"Plenty of potential, but could do considerably better" is the school report for geography, according to Ofsted. Geography: Changing Practice, released this week and based largely on inspections in 200 schools in 2004-05, suggests that standards in geography teaching are the lowest of any national curriculum subject. It reports that the curriculum is uninspiring, teachers are suffering from a lack of professional development and there is a lack of quality fieldwork.

The essential role of geography in contextualising the big issues facing society is recognised by Ofsted. Every child should experience good geography lessons so they grow up informed about the rapidly changing world in which we live.

Geography is not a surly, uncooperative pupil sitting in the corner, unwilling to listen and change. Since 2003, teachers, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, ministers and the two subject bodies - the Royal Geographical Society and the Geographical Association - have been working to improve matters. A new key stage 3 curriculum will be rolled out this September, the new pilot GCSE has begun, and a pound;2 million action plan is being delivered by the subject bodies.

The action plan recognises that teachers need broader support than just curriculum changes. It is assisting with continuing professional development and online resources; and through our ambassadors scheme, graduate geographers are demonstrating the excellent employment prospects that geography offers.

But if geography is to flourish, others need to act: awarding bodies need to recognise the importance of providing a constantly engaging curriculum; school leaders need to recognise that the subject has much to contribute to wider agendas; and non-specialist teachers need to engage with one of the most fascinating of disciplines. Finally, Ofsted is right to argue that more high-quality fieldwork is needed.

The demise in recent years of local authority advisers has placed a great burden on the two subject bodies and we have risen, jointly, to the challenge. Ofsted may recommend that these advisers beef up their role, but this is unlikely in the foreseeable future. So will the Department for Children, Schools and Families extend funding for the action plan? Hopefully it will. Then we can embed the good work achieved so far and further inspire geography, "hard to reach" and non-specialist teachers alike.

This article is supported by David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association

Dr Rita Gardner, Director of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers.

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