Specialise in quality teaching

4th April 2003 at 01:00
"LEAVE your specialism behind, and teach," says Nicholas Woolley (TES, March 21). But teach what? I have an open mind on this question - it is the key question that all teachers face - and do not mind his challenge that "we are over-protective of our subjects". But the case against specialist teaching had better be put more convincingly than was mustered here, and in an era of so-called "thinking skills" and national "strategies" that concentrate on generic teaching skills, I would welcome a more robust debate.

First, Mr Woolley caricatures specialist teaching as asking "11-year-olds to colour in maps" - no, this is what often happens when non-specialists are given geography to teach. Then he gives the game away by asserting that to "prattle on for 70 minutes" on something about which you know "diddly-squat", equates with teaching. He does concede that in teaching specialist subjects it is essential to know how to make them accessible to young people. When he was unable to do this, as in the case of teaching philosophy to Year 9s, he merely dismissed his teaching as "crap". I would have liked him to be a little more analytical than this.

Of course, a "geography degree does not make a geography teacher". But research evidence and Office for Standards in Education reports show overwhelmingly that good "subject knowledge" is a vital ingredient in feeding a teacher's pedagogic content knowledge - and their quality of teaching.

Dr David Lambert Chief executive Geographical Association 160 Solly Street, Sheffield

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