Give us some latitude, say geographers

28th March 2008 at 00:00

Geographical Association conference: leader defends profession against `politically correct' teaching charge

Geography teachers are to defend their subject from accusations that it is focusing on politically correct ethics rather than giving pupils knowledge of the world.

The subject will be gaining a new key stage 3 curriculum in September, structured around key concepts: place, space, scale, interdependence, physical and human processes, environmental interaction and sustainable development, and cultural understanding and diversity.

The move has been criticised by Alex Standish, assistant professor of geography at Western Connecticut State University, who said it was turning geography into a subject about politically correct ethics rather than knowledge.

But more than 750 geography teachers will hear their subject being defended at the Geographical Association's annual conference in Guildford, Surrey, which opened yesterday and ends tomorrow.

David Lambert, chief executive of the association and a part-time professor at the Institute of Education in London, said: "If geography was taught carelessly, particularly by non-specialists, then it could be reduced to some weak environmental propaganda. But when it's taught well by specialists who understand the subject, it's impossible for the subject to be used in that way."

Geography has been under scrutiny for two years after a series of critical reports from Ofsted and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority prompted the Government to put pound;2 million into the two-year Action Plan for Geography in 2006, with the aim of providing more support and resources for teachers.

But despite the scale of changes, Professor Lambert said it had been difficult to persuade some schools to let geography teachers miss lessons for the conference, so it had been necessary to run part of the conference over the weekend.

"We know it is difficult for teachers to persuade schools to support attending the conference because it is not always considered to fit with their school's priorities," he said.

"If a teacher wants some continuous professional development in their subject they are often faced with a `no'.

"What I would argue for is that it's worth a school investing in people's enthusiasm and passions for what they want to teach.

"It is such an important part of teachers' identity.

"If you erode that, it is not surprising that people leave teaching after a few years."

Professor Lambert's comments coincide with findings from the on-going Good Childhood Inquiry, run by the Children's Society, which found children wanted teachers who are passionate about their subjects.

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