Geography: the lost subject

7th October 2005 at 01:00
As Sats pressure continues, efforts to broaden the primary timetable are foundering. Helen Ward reports.

Less time was spent on geography and music in primary schools last year than in any previous year since Labour came to power.

The statistics, collected for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, found schools spent 3.9 per cent of teaching time on music and 4 per cent on geography and design and technology - roughly one 55-minute lesson per week.

The continuing decline of geography has prompted the Government to set up a working group last year to address the problem. The group, chaired by Lord Adonis, the schools minister, is due to report later this term.

The amount of time spent on English and maths rose in 2005 after a slight dip in both subjects last year, following the Government's excellence and enjoyment strategy which encouraged primaries to broaden their curriculums.

Previous surveys show that since 1997, primaries have devoted increasing amounts of time to English, maths and ICT, while cutting back on humanities, the arts and personal, social and health education.

Joanna Bragg, senior researcher at the centre for formative assessment studies at Manchester university which carried out the survey of 700 schools, said: "All the action happened from 1997 to 2000. From then on it has sort of plateaued with a bit of undulation as schools find the balance between subjects.

"Schools have now embedded the national literacy and numeracy strategies.

The Government has pushed ICT and PE. The other subjects, DT, history, geography, art and music, have lost out.

"The enigma is science because it is a core subject but has lost teaching time."

Schools spent 27.1 per cent of lesson time on English last year, 22 per cent on maths and 9.7 per cent on science.

Schools are free to decide how to allocate time, but the literacy and numeracy strategies suggest hourly lessons each day.

The QCA guidelines recommend seven to 11-year-olds spend between 21 and 32 per cent of their week on English and between 18 and 21 per cent on maths.

Geography, design and technology, ICT, history, art and music should have around an hour a week each.

Sarah Hennessy, chair of the National Association of Music Educators, said:

"There is no simple cause and effect. It is a whole soup of issues: government policies on literacy, how schools interpret policy, anxieties of teachers about teaching music and teacher training. There is a huge amount of money brought into specialist projects and initiatives, but what we need is support for everyday ordinary music-making."


Tropical brainstorm

"People just have too narrow a concept of geography," said Benita Toth, head of Perton first school near Wolverhampton.

The subject for her pupils is very interactive. They learn about climatic zones by doing research on the internet and make posters and brochures to persuade classmates to visit the tropics or North Pole.

An inspectors' report said: "This is a school that celebrates humanities and encourages the pupils to become little historians and geographers through a very well planned, 'hands-on', exciting curriculum. Learning is great fun, challenging and investigative."

Geography co-ordinator and Year 3 teacher Chris Rogers was made an advanced skills teacher in geography last term and is spreading her zeal for the subject with other schools.

Mrs Toth said: "Neither I nor Mrs Rogers has a geography degree. You do not need specialist knowledge, you just need enthusiasm."

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