Out of the wilderness
For those coming to terms with the new geography requirements, Colin Harris finds that help is at hand.
With five years of post-Dearing stability ahead, the curriculum industry can begin to offer the kind of reasoned help that these books provide.
There are two broad categories of need. Those with inspection imminent fall into the first, with an urgent need for quick solutions to Ofsted demands. And the second comprise the more fortunate, who after the departure of inspectors, may have time for philosophy and reasoned debate although few primary teachers would admit to this.
Maureen Weldon's and Roy Richardson's Planning Primary Geography in the Key Strategies series falls clearly into the first category. Here in plain language is an explanation of the statutory requirements for geography, a guide to the drafting of a curriculum policy in the subject (even to the extent of providing an exemplar policy), suggestions for key stage overviews and draft schemes of work.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that all teachers have to do is transfer the text of this book to their own PCs and print them as their own documents. The guidance offered suggests the way schemes can be devised, with helpful hints on organising teaching, which need to be adapted for individual schools. The book subdivides the primary curriculum into pairs of years 12, 34, 56 and although some of the suggested schemes are specific, teachers are advised they can adapt existing plans and resources to satisfy the modified Order, even summarising these requirements in an earlier chapter.
Of equal value are the sections giving guidance on enquiry (frequently omitted or misunderstood), map work, field work and information technology. A shorter section on assessment is perhaps too short to meet the needs of all teachers.
Photocopiable templates for planning, weather recording, and so on, complete what is an invaluable and highly practical guide for the anxious geography co-ordinator.
Primary Geography, in the Primary Bookshelf series, offers a different approach entirely. If the inspectors are coming next week you will still be reading it when they arrive. This is not because it is difficult or lacking in practical advice. What the authors have more explicitly in mind is the "cultivation of a (geography) curriculum", and guidance on this is precisely what they offer, not just for practising teachers but also for students, curriculum co-ordinators and others. It is a book with a wide potential audience.
To cultivate geography in the primary school you need to understand what the subject is all about, where it came from and what it is trying to do. This book answers all these questions with clarity and rigour. It maps out the principles underlying primary geography, how the original Order swamped even the most diligent practitioner, and how the Dearing reforms, while throwing a lifeline to those threatened by overload, leave teachers with much to do to compile a coherent scheme of work.
There is some help here for those seeking instant solutions, but if you are desperate for schemes of work "off the peg" you should look elsewhere. If you have time to build on the sound philosophical base of this book you will no doubt produce a scheme more suited to your needs.
The book deals well with controversial issues in the classroom but is not without controversy itself. It coins the categories of Little Geography and Big Geography, seemingly to represent local and distant places respectively, but without clear reference to scale. Are "little" places smaller than "big" places? Or are they just nearer?
The chapter on assessment, recording and reporting is thorough and offers very helpful advice.
Both these books meet a post-Dearing need; the one eminently practical, especially for the non-specialist, the other fascinating to read, giving fresh and challenging insights into primary geography.