Martin Whittaker meets some of the first teachers to be awarded an international professional qualification that recognises high achievement
Samantha Temple has some new letters after her name, and they represent far more than professional kudos. She is among the first teachers to be awarded "C.Geog" - Chartered Geographer status. She has taught geography for 11 years and is on secondment from Glenmoor School in Bournemouth to her education authority as a key stage 3 foundation consultant.
Samantha has also been her school's educational visits co-ordinator, has travelled to Japan, Canada and Australia to see secondary teaching methods, and has been curriculum mentor for student teachers. "It is good to get the work recognised," she says. "Teachers do professional development all the time by going on courses, going to network meetings and even by just talking to other teachers. It has been hard in the past to get the extra time you put in validated, but Chartered Geographer status seems an ideal way to do this."
The new qualification was launched by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) with the Institute of British Geographers two years ago to demonstrate high levels of competence in geography. "Basically it's the only international professional accreditation for geographers," says Dr Sarah Jones, the RGS's professional officer. "It's on a par with other professional bodies and it recognises your commitment to geography."
The award is particularly suited to teachers as it complements the Government's teachers' standards framework and continuous professional development strategy.
To apply, candidates have to be Fellows of the RGS, though they can apply for fellowship and Chartered Geographer status simultaneously. They must have held an honours degree or equivalent in geography for at least six years and have been practicing the subject since graduation. Application is straightforward: along with an application form, candidates simply submit an extended CV and a report of their practical experience.
Teachers can use their professional development record or evidence for performance management to support their application. But once you become a Chartered Geographer you don't automatically keep the status - failure to keep up with professional development may lead to its withdrawal. Samantha found the application easy - she was already a Fellow of the RGS. All she had to do was download the form from the RGS website and provide evidence of qualifications and continuous professional development.
But what are the benefits? "It means that I'm encouraged to attend courses to keep the status, as well as my usual professional development. And my students benefit by my continued updating of my subject knowledge," she says.
Ian Dixson is head of humanities at The High Arcal School, an 11-16 comprehensive in Dudley, West Midlands. He regards gaining C.Geog status as the culmination of 21 years' teaching. As well as his teaching responsibilities, he has researched the pedagogical implications of developments in ICT at KS4, and has organised in-service training, field trips, a Fairtrade shop and expeditions to Iceland and Switzerland.
"They are looking for people who are doing more than just their day's work.
People who are leading, directing, movers and shakers," he says. They are looking for leadership-type activities, so marking exercise books doesn't count, but delivering inset, writing papers and taking part in conferences does. "When it comes to applying for jobs, if you have FRGS and C.Geog after your name, it's going to set you aside from other people. It's a prestigious thing."
Ian says the award also has great networking benefits, allowing teachers to mix with fellow Chartered Geographers in higher education and other sectors.
Of the 118 people to have so far gained C.Geog, only 15 per cent are teachers, and they join a varied company. While most work in universities, the list also includes planners, surveyors, geography consultants, a cartographer, conservationists and a television journalist.
Ian says: "With such a concentration on English, maths and science all the way up to KS4, geography has had to fight its corner in terms of gaining students. So this is something which will permeate its way through higher education, and hopefully it will be picked up by future generations as something which is valid and worthwhile. At the moment we are exploring ways in which we can get pupils from non-traditional backgrounds into higher education."
John Halocha is head of geography and reader in geographical education at Bishop Grosseteste College of higher education in Lincoln. He became a C.Geog after five years as a Fellow of the RGS. He believes the award raises the profile of the subject, and sets a good standard for his trainee teachers.
"We're saying that geography is a very important way of looking at the world and it's a very relevant part of the whole curriculum."