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7th November 2003 at 00:00
Andy Schofield urges geographers to seize the opportunity to put their subject on the map

The new humanities specialist status is the opportunity geographers in secondary education have been waiting for. It is the chance to put geography, a truly integrating subject, at the centre of the school.

Schools applying for specialist status should be looking for much more than extra investment, more textbooks and maps, better exam results and the odd field trip. Quality bids should set out to change the school's culture for the benefit of students and the community. This will require a vision and understanding of the nature and potential of geography in schools. Key themes such as sustainability, environmental education and economic understanding could underpin the whole curriculum.

Teaching about values, racism and ethnocentricity could be significantly more explicit right across the school. Specialist status could fund fieldwork and residential education, not just in geography, but anywhere where learning can be seen to draw on a sense of place, the locality, the region or different cultures. A key requirement is that bids demonstrate a contribution to educational inclusion and this could be done through values and residential education.

Interesting developments in teaching in recent years have been in relation to critical thinking skills and cognitive acceleration. Much here could be applied in other subjects. If CASE is used in science, or CAME in maths, specialist status could be a spur to understanding in greater depth how students learn.

Schools often use the additional funding from specialist status to invest in ICT. This can ensure that all staff and subjects benefit, and can have significant spin-offs for geography. A large proportion (30 per cent) of the resources also have to be committed to work with the community, which can mean local primary schools. This is often the weakest part of a school's bid and needs careful thought. Environmental issues linked to school buildings or grounds, or to the immediate locality, are good starting points. Other ideas include giving away or loaning equipment and undertaking joint fieldwork or teaching.

Excellent help for interested schools can be found at the Specialist Schools Trust. The RGS-IBG and GA are setting up centres of excellence in geography for the first specialist schools and will be looking for really inspiring plans.

There is a danger that fundraising and form-filling can become overwhelming preoccupations. What can easily get missed is the educational vision and the opportunity to change the culture of the school. Geographers should be ready to make sure this doesn't happen.

Specialist Schools Trust: www.specialistschoolstrust.org.ukRGS-IBG: www.rgs.org.ukGA: www.geography.org.uk Andy Schofield is headteacher of Varndean School, Brighton and a former chair of the GA's secondary education committee

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