Inter-subject warfare is pointless

13th September 1996 at 01:00
It is sad to see historians squabbling over numbers. For the figures for change in GCSE entrants between 1995 and 1996 quoted in "Historians want to curb growth of GCSErival" (TES, August 30) to have meaning, they should be set in a longer-term evaluation of the nature of change and of possible causes at the time when the candidates were making their GCSE choices two years previously.

As any statistician will confirm, it is unwise to infer trends from change over a single year. A simple analysis of the number of entries for geography and history in relation to the total number of GCSE entries shows that both subjects have fluctuated between 1992 and 1996 (see the GCSE intergroup statistics).

It is unlikely that geography is "easier" or has "more factual recall" because of inter-subject and inter-board comparability of standards - although we acknowledge that different subjects develop and examine varying skills in their pupils.

The strength of geography lies in the training it provides inthe combination of literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and experimental skills. In addition, as Martin Roberts recognised in the article, geography is one of the most relevant subjects in today's world, in which concern about social and environmental issues, resource-use and sustainability is high.

This is reflected in the fact that geography provides a substantial part of the environmental teaching in key stages 1 to 4. It is the only subject that spans the important interface between social science and the natural sciences - an interface vital to the understanding and sensible future management of our environment and its peoples.

For a subject of such relevance to young people, it remains a grave concern that geography has been relegated to the status of an option for 14 to 16-year-olds. We need pupils to have the chance to study both geography and history at GCSE.

It is in the long-term interest of neither history nor geography to engage in inter-subject warfare. The recognition of the intrinsic value of both, and of the different strengths that each has to offer, is the most positive, and civilised, way forward.

DR RITA GARDNER Director and secretary THE EARL JELLICOE President Royal Geographical Society Kensington Gore London SW7

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