Pruning to see the wood for the trees

11th November 1994 at 00:00
Geography. The overloaded and confusing geography curriculum in the current Order is to be replaced by one that is not only radically pruned but also much easier to follow, with clear progression through the key stages.

One hundred and eighty-two statements of attainment have been replaced by eight level descriptions setting out the broad skills and achievements required.

In the programmes of study, skill requirements are now set out in two separate paragraphs for each key stage, the first concerned with general enquiry skills, such as collecting and recording evidence, and the other identifying specific types of skills: geographical vocabulary, fieldwork, making maps, using maps and using IT.

At KS2, for instance, pupils will be given opportunities to observe and ask questions about geographical features and issues, to collect and record evidence to answer the questions and analyse the evidence, draw conclusions and communicate findings.

Their specific skills would include using instruments like rain gauges to make measurements, drawing maps and plans at a variety of scales, reading maps using grid references and identifying major places on simple maps of the British Isles, Europe and the world.There has been no overall change in balance from the current Order, although the number of place studies required has had to be cut dramatically.

The final proposals retain the main components of the current Order - skills, places and themes - and, within the themes, there is roughly the same balance between physical, human and environmental geography.

During the consultation exercise, teachers expressed fears that the radical reduction in content had narrowed the focus of the curriculum. A significant minority were worried at the lifting of the requirement for five to seven-year-olds to study a locality outside the UK. They feared that geography at this stage might become entirely locally-based and fail to begin developing pupils' awareness of the wider world.

But cuts had to be made somewhere, so the overseas study is to become an option. The introductory paragraph to KS1 makes it clear that pupils should be given opportunities to "become aware that the world extends beyond their own locality, both within and outside the United Kingdom."

Teachers were also worried that cross-curricular themes, such as economic understanding and European unity, had been marginalised during the pruning.

The Economic Activities theme has been cut from KS2 in the interests of slimming down but, says SCAA, economic ideas and the importance of jobs and services can be introduced under the Settlement theme. As for European unity, the introductory statements to the thematic section of the programmes at KS2 and KS3 now require that contexts include the United Kingdom and the European Union.

At KS3, the draft proposals had allocated rocks and weathering to science and erosion to geography. But many of the geography teachers consulted pointed out that the effect of rock type and weathering on the development of land forms would also have to be coveredin geography to teach the Geo-morphological Processes theme,so those topics have been reinstated.

Finally, the vital subject of the maps which set out the minimum locational knowledge requirements for KS2 and KS3. The consultation exercise produced many complaints about the apparently arbitrary way in which the content of some of the maps had been selected.

They have now been revised in line with clear criteria for including places; the greatest changes appear on maps E and F, which are the maps of Europe and the world for KS3. In addition, a new projection (Ekert IV) has been used for maps C and F (the world maps for KS2 and KS3), to reduce distortion of shape and area in high latitudes.

Key changes from the current order Key stage 1 * place studies have been cut from three to two. These are the locality of the school and a contrasting locality, either in the United Kingdom or overseas; * the number of themes (the current "strands") has been reduced from nine to one which is called Environmental Quality.

Key stage 2 * place studies have been cut from five to three: the locality of the school (covering an area larger than in key stage 1), another locality in the United Kingdom and a third in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), South America or Central America (including the Caribbean); * the number of themes has been reduced from eleven to four: Rivers, Weather, Settlement and Environmental Change.

Key stage 3 * place studies have been cut from seven to two: two contrasting countries outside the United Kingdom, chosen from two lists.

* the number of themes has been reduced from 11 to nine. They are: Tectonic Processes; Geomorphological Processes; Weather and Climate; Ecosystems; Population; Settlement; Economic Activities; Development and Environmental Issues.

General * programmes of study set out the knowledge, understanding and skills to be taught, in similar format but with distinctive requirements for each key stage; * a single attainment target replaces the five previous attainment targets; * progression is more clearly identified between the key stages and progression in individual components of geography can be traced through the level descriptions; * the locational knowledge pupils need has been integrated into the general place requirements and skills section of each key stage; * maps have been redrawn using clear criteria for including places. A different map projection - Ekert IV - has been used for maps C and F.

* statements of attainments are replaced by level descriptions; * levels 9 and 10 have been replaced by an "exceptional performance" category. To reach this, pupils would have to show a wide range of skills, including the ability to "explain complex interactions within and between physical and human processes" and to "explain and predict change over time in the characteristics of places". They would also evaluate their work by suggesting improvements in approach and further lines of enquiry.

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