Build a bigger vision

29th June 2001 at 01:00
The Green Paper misses a vital component by not mentioning geography's place in the national curriculum, says Keith Grimwade.

The Geographical Association supports much of the Green Paper Schools - Building on Success. However, we are concerned that it is too narrow a vision to foster more than a basic curriculum.

We welcome the Green Paper's support for a broad and balanced curriculum, but it lacks definition - geography is not mentioned at all. Geography's distinctive contribution to the curriculum must not be lost. For example, through geography the youngest of children learn about their immediate and the wider world; they learn to travel confidently; and to interpret spatial information - plans, maps, atlases and globes.

We agree that literacy and numeracy are fundamental areas of learning. However, the time given to geography in many primary schools has been significantly reduced and the quality of teaching has suffered as a result. Building on success should be a strategy for developing the wider curriculum so that pupils benefit from the distinctive contribution of all subjects.

We support the focus on key stage 3 but we disagree with the proposal to shorten it by a year. If pupils have had a limited and disjointed experience of geography at primary school, two years is not long enough to develop a real knowledge and understanding of the many relevant issues addressed by the geography curriculum, which can range from the impact of a new housing development in the local area to the long-term effects of atmospheric pollution at a global scale. Progression to the KS4 curriculum needs further thought or many pupils will be deprived of vital learning experiences just at the point when they have the maturity to make sense of them.

We are in favour of schools developing their own interests and expertise. However, we regret that the proposal for broadening the range of specialist schools makes no provision for the humanities. We believe that the choice of specialism should be left to schools themselves, allowing them to build on their successes and to develop their interests. For example, a school with a special interest in the environment could develop this aspect of the curriculum while working towards the nationally recognised Eco-Schools Award standard. (www.eco-schools.org.uk) We fully support the proposals to ensure equal access to educational resources outside the classroom, such as museums and galleries, but "the environment" should also be defined as an educational resource. The Office for Standards in Education has found a clear link between good standards and a regular programme of practical work and field study. However, geography departments are finding it increasingly difficult to organise even local fieldwork because of the cost of supply cover, transport and insurance.

One aspect of the Green Paper that we welcome is the increased profile of continuing professional development. The Geographical Association's main aim is "to further the study and teaching of geography" and we have recently appointed a professional development officer to enhance support for members. We hope to be able to work with the Government to develop this aspect of the proposals.

Membership of the Geographical Association has grown by 600 in the past year to more than 10,000 and is evidence of the interest and enthusiasm for geography in schools. We hope that the Government will recognise that schools want to teach geography and will develop strategies to support a genuinely broad and balanced curriculum, for the benefit of all the pupils we teach.

Keith Grimwade is acting senior adviser for Cambridgeshire LEA, and chair of the education standing committee of the Geographical Association, 160 Solly Street, Sheffield S1 4BF. Tel: 0114 296 0088 Web: www.geography.org.uk

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