Geography is enjoying significant growth in schools, with rising numbers of candidates since 2011 at both GCSE and A level. Recruitment to undergraduate courses is running at almost twice the national average for all subjects and geography students experience some of the lowest levels of graduate unemployment.
But teachers of geography should not rest easy on this success. The upcoming year is one of significant change: the new GCSE and reformed A level (to be taught in schools from September 2016) should be uppermost in most department’s minds.
In addition, this will be the third year of the new national curriculum. Hence, we would expect all maintained schools to have developed this from Years 7-9, and likewise it should be embedded at primary level.
Here are some pointers on how to approach the upcoming year.
What you need to consider in the next 12 months
The curriculum should be embedded at key stages 1-3, but there are still significant challenges to be explored around making assessment count and ensuring subject specialists are in front of children in classrooms. Helping to ensure that KS3 geography is not the forgotten phase is paramount.
At GCSE, geography is one of the fastest-growing subjects, with significant uptake among students of all abilities. The new 9-1 GCSE raises expectations. More rigorous content with strengthened requirements for fieldwork poses opportunities and challenges for many departments.
The inclusion of the more demanding, place-based study of UK geography, for example, requires a detailed knowledge and understanding of landscapes, environmental challenges and changing economy and society, rather than a case-study approach.
There are also very significant changes to the requirements at A level:
The teacher-assessed independent investigation (now 20 per cent of the final mark) incorporates research and fieldwork skills.
New human geography content includes themes such as identity and place, place-making and marketing, cultural geography and global governance.
Greater rigour within physical geography includes new approaches to processes such as glaciation, carbon and water cycling.
The demands of quantitative and qualitative investigation mean that new statistical and data-handling skills and professional development will be required.
Tips and strategies for the year ahead
Be positive and resilient. Do not panic or feel isolated. There is a very strong, active national and regional geography community that offers high-quality professional support and connections across the UK and beyond. Find guidance and support on the Geography Expert Subject Advisory Group site for KS1-3 (geognc.wordpress.com)
Actively engage with professional and CPD opportunities
Your school should provide subject-specific CPD and opportunities are offered by the likes of the Geographical Association (GA), the Royal Geographical Society with IBG (RGS), the Prince’s Teaching Institute and other bodies such as the Year of Fieldwork and the Global Learning Programme.
Ensure high-quality subject teaching
Promote and celebrate your subject within your school through initiatives such has the GA Secondary Geography Quality Mark, the use of RGS Geography Ambassadors, and the recognition of teachers’ good practice through professional accreditation such as the RGS’ Chartered Geographer (Teacher). Meanwhile, promote outstanding work from your students through excellence awards and the RGS Young Geographer of the Year competition.
Be a cheerleader for the subject
Promote geography and its relevance to further study and careers for all learners.
Graham Goldup is chair of the Geography Expert Advisory Group and senior assistant headteacher at Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove
Geography: dates for the diary 2016-17
In addition to the changes outlined above, 2016 is the Year of Fieldwork, while 2017 will be the UN International Year of Sustainable Development. Here are some other key dates:
23 March World Meteorological Day
25 March Earth Hour
June WorldWise Week takes place in the last full teaching week of June