Let's make the best of a new deal;Geography;Features amp; Arts

19th November 1999 at 00:00
We might not like it, but Curriculum 2000 shouldn't get in the way of good teaching, writes Keith Grimwade.

Curriculum 2000 is good and bad news for geography. The good news is that it gives us the opportunity to deliver a high-quality geographical education. The "distinctive contribution of geography to the curriculum" in the introduction to the programme of study is a powerful statement and can be used to explain geography's purpose to a wider audience.

But the real task is to make sure all pupils experience relevant, stimulating and interesting geography. We have to get it right. The Office for Standards in Education tells us that at key stages 1 and 2, there is less good geography teaching than in most other subjects taken by the same teacher, and that at key stage 3, progress in geography is below the average for all subjects. Maintaining geography's place in the curriculum will become increasingly difficult if the subject is seen to be underperforming.

The main curriculum change for five to seven-year-olds is the removal of the "quality of the environment" thematic study. There is a danger here that geography could become just one unit of work in Year 1 (the local area) and one in Year 2 (the contrasting locality). This approach would neither develop geographical skills nor meet the requirement to address "environmental change and sustainable development".

Schools that have to organise their curriculum in this way will have to programme continuous units of work such as "Where is Barnaby Bear?"and "What's in the News?" from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority scheme of work for geography, which was sent to all schools last autumn, to maintain continuity.

A locality study and the weather theme have been removed from key stage 2. Again, a purely mechanistic interpretation of the programme of study will result in irregular teaching. The "breadth of study" statement requires, for example, the study of "a range of places and environments in different parts of the world", and must be given expression in units of work planned at regular intervals throughout the key stage.

For primary children, the emphasis is on a practical, active approach, underpinned by geographical enquiry. Using ICT to support geographical investigations is a requirement, as is fieldwork outside the classroom. There are exciting opportunities to link geography with subjects such as science as part of a local environment investigation.

At key stage 3 the changes are relatively minor but no subjects are being removed from the national curriculum so it is no easier for pupils who would like to study geography, and related subjects, to do so at key stage 4.

There is also considerable flexibility at key stage 3. Places, themes and issues can be studied in depth. Citizenship should be seen as an opportunity - geography departments will feel at home with the sustainable development and global citizenship strands.

Curriculum 2000 is also supported by excellent guidance materials. The QCA's scheme of work and its Curriculum 2000 update should provide much-needed support for primary teachers. At key stage 3 the QCA materials, published in April, will be a source of fresh ideas.

Curriculum 2000 may not be what we wanted, but we can do plenty with it. The challenge - and the pleasure - is to ensure a high quality geographical education for all pupils.

Keith Grimwade is Cambridgeshire's general adviser for geography, and chair of the Geographical Association's education standing committee. He writes in a personal capacity

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