Slipping off edge of map

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Primary geography has beome dangerously marginalised, say inspectors.

Helen Ward reports

Fewer primary children make good progress in geography than in any other subject, according to the Office for Standards in Education. In one school inspected last year, "pupils assume the Inuits live in Antarctica and describe Hong Kong as a backward place".

Inspectors found just 24 per cent of pupils make good or better progress.

They said teachers' expectations of children were often too low and that there was little outside support for subject leaders.

Most teachers had had no professional development in geography during the past five years.

David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said:

"There is an urgent need to support primary practitioners in designing and implementing good geography.

"The subject has been seriously marginalised in recent years due to the emphasis on the core subjects and it is hard to retrieve that."

Ofsted's annual report on primary geography cited as one example of good practice a play box for reception class pupils which included maps, compasses and binoculars and stimulated geographical questions such as "where are we going?" and "do we need a map?"

David Bell, the chief inspector, has warned that the emphasis on literacy and numeracy is producing a widening gap between the core subjects and the rest of the curriculum. The primary subject reports, published in an appendix to the annual report, reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each subject.

Ofsted found only one in three pupils made good progress in history last year and said "the breadth of the curriculum has become increasingly restricted as the time available for history has decreased". It said poor history teachers were allowing primary pupils to simply copy out information, fill in uninspiring worksheets or ask obvious questions.

In some schools the only history topics studied during the first two years of school were comparisons between modern and old toys, how seaside holidays have changed and one or two famous individuals.

Roy Hughes, chairman of the primary committee of the Historical Association, said: "There simply is not the time and there are not the resources.

"The amount of resources put into something like the national literacy strategy is quite enormous, there are consultants, handbooks and videos.

The Historical Association does not have millions of pounds to put into the curriculum."

The Geographical Association's annual conference is being held in Canterbury from April 5 to 7. www.geography.org.uk

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