Leave my discipline alone!

13th September 1996 at 01:00
I was not sure whether my reaction to the article "Historians want to curb growth of GCSE rival" should be annoyance or amusement. History and geography have often been seen as alternatives in schools and some schools have been foolish enough to timetable them as such. The humanities option block, seen as a positive feature by the Historical Association, perpetuated this myth and was harmful to both subjects.

The arguments put forward by the Historical Association are insulting to geography: * "Pupils are required to do more fully developed work in history" and history has a "requirement for extending writing". The reality is that geography coursework requires very extensive writing based on primary sources, that is, fieldwork. Essays are one way of examining but short answers are also more intensive and testing.

* "Geography is perceived to be easier." This really is not the case: geography requires pupils to have literary, numerical, spatial and conceptual skills of a high order.

* "If you look at the exam papers, it is more difficult." How on earth can this judgment be made? It is hard enough to compare the relative difficulty of topics over a period of time without comparing quite different subjects.

* "A lot of the geography GCSE papers demand simple factual recall." This is surely part of most subjects at GCSE. However, GCSE requires its students to analyse data in a variety of ways in the examination and this testing of pupils' ability to manipulate information under examination conditions is one of geography's strengths.

Geography is a subject that trains people for the world today. It is relevant not just in economic terms but also in training young people to understand and explain the environment.

The Historical Association should look at its own subject and how it has evolved in recent years for its failure to attract examination candidates. I do not wish to see the downfall of history, but nor do I expect to see historians attacking my discipline and blaming it for history's own failures. It is difficult to think of a subject more relevant to life on this planet both today and in the future than geography.

ELSPETH V INSCH Head King Edward VI Handsworth School Birmingham Council member Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers Rose Hill Road Handsworth Birmingham

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