Put geography on training map

18th April 2003 at 01:00
Specialists warn of the dangers of reduced teacher-training in non-core subjects. Helen Ward reports

Geography in primary schools can be taught by teachers who have studied the subject for only four hours in a four-year course.

A survey by the Geographical Association found that the time spent on geography ranged from four hours on a BA course to five days on a post-graduate certificate in education primary with geography specialism.

One teacher-trainer wrote: "A few hours within a course is not adequate as a basis for successful geography teaching for the rest of a teaching career."

The survey found training institutions have fewer geography staff and fewer students taking geography courses than previously. Regulations introduced in September 2002 mean that primary trainees no longer have to take a specialist subject or study history or geography.

The survey of 34 higher education institutions found that more than one in four reduced the number of staff for primary geography in the past year and 15 out of 33 trained fewer specialists, although four had increased numbers.

Melanie Norman, of the University of Brighton, who carried out the survey with John Tresadern for the association, said: "These results give us cause for concern. The survey found an overall increase in the numbers of students being trained, but a significant decrease in both the numbers of students being trained as primary geography subject specialists and the number of hours devoted to this subject."

David Lambert, chief executive of the association, said: "To capitalise on the gains in numeracy and literacy you have to fire children's interest through the foundation subjects. How can teachers do that unless they can grasp the subject?"

An Office for Standards in Education report said pupils in two-thirds of primary schools did not make good progress in geography.

Professor Colin Richards, of the National Primary Teacher Education Conference, said: "Given the amount of attention, materials and planning in literacy and numeracy, we could afford to spend a little less time training people in those subjects and more time on subjects where that support does not exist."

Leader, 20 The Geographical Association annual conference is being held from April 23-25; see www.geography.org.uk

OUTLOOK IMPROVES?

PRIMARY geography has not recovered from the suspension of geography programmes between 1998 and 2002. In 1998, schools could reduce time spent on geography, and the national literacy and numeracy strategies were introduced.

Professor Simon Catling, of Oxford Brookes University, will tell the Geographical Association that in many schools this time has still not been fully regained. But he has found that there is a positive attitude towards geography in schools, and since the introduction of the national curriculum there has been more good-quality geography teaching.

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