Martin Whittaker talks to the new head of the Geographical Association
Sue Lomas, the new president of the Geographical Association, recalls her days in the classroom in Cheshire with some nostalgia.
She remembers groups of teachers being able to collaborate to put their own geography curriculum together. "When the national curriculum came in, that went by the wayside because it told us what we had to teach," she says.
"And now I think that's what the Geographical Association is trying to get back to. We're doing it quite successfully and teachers seem to be responding to it quite well."
Sue, a school improvement officer with Salford Children's Services, has had plenty of time to prepare for her presidency. Those elected enter a four-year conveyor-belt term of office, becoming first junior vice-president then senior vice-president, then president, and then past president.
A major challenge during her year in the hotseat will be to help rescue a subject in crisis. Fifteen years ago geography was the most popular GCSE option, but today increasing numbers of pupils are dropping it at 14 and there are concerns over the quality of teaching in the subject at primary school. The Geographical Association has blamed the content of geography teaching for failing to help young people make sense of the world. It wants teachers to be given more freedom to devise their own curriculum, making the subject more topical and relevant by, for example, bringing in local issues.
"I think what we are trying to do, and what we are becoming very good at, is encouraging teacher-led curriculum development," Sue says. "So we're working in partnership with other organisations and setting up a lot of teacher-led projects, developing the curriculum in response to student need, to make it relevant to students."
She cites examples such as Valuing Places, a CPD-led curriculum development project which is exploring how teaching about places in key stages 23 can develop pupils' understanding of global interconnections.
Sue has a solid grounding in the classroom - she taught geography in Cheshire for 20 years, 12 of them in a large comprehensive before heading her own department in another school and moving into advisory work.
"You like to think you bring something to the role, and my strengths are related to working in the classroom with children and teachers," she says.
The GA is also represented on a working group, chaired by schools minister Lord Adonis, set up to try to reverse the decline in geography at GCSE.
"We are trying to rekindle the enthusiasm of geography teachers and help them to become better curriculum leaders," she says. "It's around curriculum development, developing geography that kids really want to learn."