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18th November 1994 at 00:00
The new Order for geography allows greater freedom for planning. Eleanor Rawling and John Westaway report. The revised proposals for geography at key stages 1, 2 and 3 have been accepted by the Secretary of State and every school will receive a copy of second page proofs during November. Subject to the approval of Parliament, the Statutory Order for geography will be published in January 1995 for implementation in schools in September 1995.

The key revised geography Order looks very similar to the draft proposals issued for consultation. The organising framework is - like the current Order - that of skills, places and themes, which should be integrated within individual units of work. For each key stage, an enquiry approach to geographical work is still important, while a basic framework of locational knowledge remains a requirement (see box below).

Differences from the current Order relate mainly to the amount of prescribed content and to its structure. The prescribed content has been substantially cut and for each place or theme required, the focus is more on key ideas and broad emphases, leaving the teacher to make decisions about detailed choice of content within the specified scales and contexts.

Greater freedom also brings with it the responsibility to ensure coverage of the necessary scale and context requirements within teaching schemes. The revised Order makes it quite clear that the programmes of study are the starting point for planning, because these contain the knowledge, understanding and skills to be taught. The programme of study for each key stage follows a similar format and this facilitates planning for progression across the key stages.

A single attainment target (geography) replaces the existing five (skills, places, human, physical, environmental) but these five elements are still recognisable within the attainment target. Level descriptions describe characteristic pupil performance and provide the basis for teachers to make overall judgments about individual pupils as a result of evidence gathered. Statements of attainment have gone and with them all the associated difficulties of level-related content.

The consultation exercise gave approval to the broad directions of change outlined in the May draft which are now confirmed in the new Order. Most people who attended consultation meetings or who completed the 4,900-plus questionnaires were satisfied with the amount of change and restructuring, were pleased with the way in which a balance of places, themes and skills had been maintained, and gave a cautious welcome to the principle of the level descriptions. Some concerns were expressed by teachers and attempts have been made to address these.

Messages from the geography consultation were but one set of factors - albeit the most important - which had to be taken into account. Also influential were messages received from the curriculum overview consultation and decisions made by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority about cross-subject consistency. Among the changes made in response to the geography consultation are clarification of the enquiry questions, a reordering and clarification of the skills sections of each programme of study, revised content for the maps, and a new projection (Eckert IV) for the world maps.

At key stage 3 there were also specific concerns about physical geography. Reference is now made to rocks and weathering in landform development, and teaching about the global distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes is now a requirement, whichever option is then chosen for study.

Many people wanted to see greater emphasis given to the study of the United Kingdom and the European Union, at key stages 2 and 3. Although it has not been possible to add new requirements for study of specific countries (particularly the UK which did not feature in the original Order at all), the wording has been tightened to ensure that the UK and EU feature as contexts for thematic work, and to require all pupils to build up their knowledge of the wider world context in which places are set. Similarly, requests to strengthen overseas locality work at key stage 1, and the global dimension at key stages 2 and 3 have been accommodated by judicious wording of the requirements for choosing at each key stage.

Further slimming across all subjects in key stage 2 was required to meet concerns about curriculum overload. For geography the outcome was the loss of one thematic study, Economic Activities. It should be noted, however, that the requirements for the settlement theme at key stage 2 (reintroduced in response to consultation to replace communications) present a strong economic slant so opportunities for developing economic understanding are still available.

Those who welcomed the progression statements in the May draft may be disappointed to find that they have now gone. Across all subjects, the decision was taken to slim the documents to include only the minimum statutory requirements. As Sir Ron Dearing has emphasised, there is a need for teachers to exercise their professional judgment to plan and develop the curriculum which best fits their school and pupils. This reinstated professional freedom is clearly revealed for geography.

The consultation exercise revealed a widespread desire for further guidance with the new Order, in particular, exemplification of and assistance with level descriptions. In January all schools will receive, with their copies of the new Orders, an overview document explaining the changes as a whole. This will include a section on the role of the level descriptions.

A curriculum planning document for key stages 1 and 2 is also being produced early in 1995 but decisions about more specific subject support material are still to be made. Teachers at key stage 3 will receive advice on enhancing their geographical teaching with IT.

SCAA's role extends only to advice and clarification on essential matters, so the task of providing wider support and new resources must lie with bodies like the Geographical Association, and the educational publishers.

With next September in mind, the best advice for teachers of geography 5-14 is to be clear about their own role. The new Order is a minimum entitlement. It remains for teachers to set their own objectives for geographical education in their school, to identify those emphases they consider important at each key stage, and to use the Order as the base on which to build high quality teaching and learning experiences.

Eleanor Rawling and John Westaway are professional officers for geography at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Summary of programmes of study for key stages 1, 2 and 3

Common to all key stages

o Knowledge and understanding about places and themes at a range of scales o An enquiring, questioning approach to geographical studies o A range of geographical skills under the following headings: geographical vocabulary, fieldwork, mapsand plans, globes and atlases, graphical techniques, secondary sources information technology o Awareness of the wider world and the broader geographical context of places studied

Distinctive key stage requirements Information in square brackets relates to the Welsh Order Key stage 1: Two places (locality of the school and a contrasting locality) and one theme (environmental quality) [either the weather or jobs and journeys or the quality of the environmnent] Predominantly local site, but awareness of the world beyond the locality, both within and beyond the United Kingdom [Wales].

Key stage 2: Three places (locality of the school, UK locality and a locality in Africa, Asia, or South and Central America) [A local area, a contrasting a locality in Wales or elesewhere in the UK and a locality in an economically developing country] and four themes (rivers, weather, settlement and environmental change). Local, regional and national scale. Awareness of wider world and context within which places and themes are studies.

Key stage 3: Two places (contrasting countries other than UK in specifically different states of development) [Three places: Wales, one European Union country and one economically developing country] and nine themes (tectonic processes, geomorphological processes, weather and climate, ecosystems, population, settlement, economic activities, development, environmental issues) [ten]. Full range of scales from local to global. Awareness of global contexts within which places are set and how places are interdependent.

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