Durable building blocks

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Eleanor Rawling explains how SCAA's guidance for planing key stages 1 and 2 should be interpreted for geography. The revised national curriculum Orders provide a new context for the planning of the primary curriculum. As with the other subject Orders, the geography Order is a minimum entitlement: it is for schools to set their own aims and priorities, and to build the required content into schemes of work appropriate to their pupils.

For a foundation subject such as geography, greater freedom brings risks as well as opportunities. The emphasis in current discussions has been on the core subjects and basic skills. The Office for Standards in Education points out that it may not be possible for inspectors to see all foundation subjects being taught, and there are no statutory assessment requirements for geography at key stages 1 and 2.

The most recent evidence from HM Inspectorate surveys, based on the first years of teaching the old Order, also reveals that despite considerable progress geography is still weak in many primary schools, particularly at key stage 2. So how can schools address this situation and ensure a sound base for geographical education?

A new publication from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Planning the Curriculum at Key Stages 1 and 2 draws attention to different ways of organising the content of the curriculum. It can be argued that geography should be taught in all three ways at both key stages (figure 1): o Continuing work refers to an aspect of a subject which requires regular and frequent teaching and assessment, and needs to be planned across a year or key stage to ensure progression. It may be developed or revisited in other subjects, for example number work in mathematics and reading competence in English. However, in geography, the skills of using and interpreting maps, atlases and globes may be considered in this way. Similarly, locational knowledge and awareness of the wider world needs to be progressively developed and may feature in a variety of topics.

o Blocked units are coherent blocks of content (knowledge and skills) drawn from a single subject and taught within a specified time period. A geographical example given in the booklet is a unit of work for Years 56 focused on contrasts in settlement and covering many different place, theme and skill requirements from the programme of study. Much of the in-depth work might be focused on localities, but in addition the opportunity can be taken to examine economic activities, land use issues, regional and national context and the links which these localities have with the wider world.

o Linked units of work are recognised where a common topic allows aspects of two or more subjects to be addressed. A good example might be an investigation of changing water supply at key stage 2, linking geography and science through a focus on weather, water and environmental change, and the use of geographical and scientific enquiry skills. Another example might be exploration of the local area; past, present and future at key stage 1, bringing together locality work in geography with the history of the local area, and common skills of gathering evidence.

The identification of three possibilities for geography is an important first step in planning a sound contribution at each of the three levels of planning identified in the SCAA booklet (figure 2). Geography and geographical considerations need to be fully represented in whole school discussions about the breadth, balance and character of the curriculum (level 1), even before the more detailed planning of schemes of work (level 2) and of particular classroom strategies (level 3) takes place. There are four points to bear in mind when planning geography in the curriculum: First, the key geography content requirements (localities, themes skills) are building blocks which can be put together in a variety of ways (para 1b in the new Order). This flexibility means that geography can be represented as continuing work, as specific blocked units of geography, and as linked units of work with other subjects. It also means that each key stage or year might have a different emphasis (for example, place study, thematic work, issues) as appropriate to other aspects of the curriculum.

Second, the enquiring approach required throughout the 5-11 range (paras 1b and 2), provides obvious links with subjects such as history, science and technology, and affords opportunities to address skills such as handling evidence, group work and problem solving .

Third, the development of locational framework and awareness of the wider world are essential at both key stages 1 and 2 (paras 1e, 3e, 6). Geography cannot be "covered" purely in local work.

Fourth, additional geographical topics and questions of relevance to the school and the local community (paras 1,6) might provide an appropriate focus for using extra time freed by the Dearing review. This might include using a geographical topic as a medium for applying core subject skills in a new context.

Understanding these points will enable the geography co-ordinator to set clear objectives for each key stage and each scheme of work, and assist teachers to understand what pupils will be expected to achieve.

Eleanor Rawling is professional officer for geography at SCAA o Planning the Curriculum at Key Stages 1 and 2 , PO Box 590, London SE5 7EF, Pounds 3 (50 per cent discount to maintained schools)

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