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Your turn to take the reins

For a new primary teacher, being a subject co-ordinator can be daunting. Esther Burwood-Patterson offers some advice.

When I went for my interview I was told that I would have to lead the school in co-ordinating a national curriculum subject on top of trying to organise my new class. So when the headteacher asked me to "sort out" geography in the school it came as no surprise. Nevertheless, I did wonder how the more experienced staff would take to a newly qualified teacher trying to lead them in a new direction.

My first job was to find out what sort of geography resources were already in the school and their condition. I asked the staff at a weekly meeting to write a list of the resources that they had in their classroom, such as globes, atlases and maps. From the list, which was very short, I asked the headteacher if geography could be given priority in our school development plan for that year.

Once we had the go ahead I had to find out the amount of geography being taught in the school. This was discussed at our weekly meeting when we found that there was already a lot of good geography teaching going on but some areas were not being properly covered, while others were being flogged to death year after year.

As a young recruit I felt it was not my place to insist on some of the teachers changing their geography curriculum planning. Instead I ordered a variety of commercially produced packs and textbooks for the staff to study collaboratively, giving their opinion on which were more suitable for their class. I was very selective in the materials I ordered so as to cover all the geographical areas, to ensure we were fulfilling the requirements of the national curriculum.

I found most of the staff willing to change their planning as long as I could offer help and support in delivering the curriculum. I found that by using picture packs with my own class and by displaying their work in the corridor I was able to give the other teachers ideas on how to use the new materials and perhaps inspiration for their own classroom.

In the meantime, I looked for appropriate in-service training courses for geography co-ordinators on how to develop whole-school planning, assessment of pupils and policy-making - after all I needed to make sure I was working on the right lines as well.

When the new resources arrived I issued each teacher with a basic set of materials such as globes, atlases, and play mats for the infants. The bigger, more expensive resources - including weather instruments, picture packs and big books - were communally stored and listed.

Although there were lots of new resources for the juniors, I felt the younger children didn't have enough secondary sources, so I began to collect a variety of materials on the local area - from differing scale maps to photograph packs which I had taken of the school and its immediate vicinity. These photographs were blown up to A4 size in order to see the detail and laminated to protect them. On the back I wrote some guidelines on how to use the pictures, drawing attention to specific features.

I also put together packs looking at distant places within Great Britain and in other countries. I asked the other teachers if they could help by keeping postcards, local maps, and aeroplane tickets when they went on holiday. These packs would help the children build up a picture of other localities, where they are located in the world and the time it takes to get there. Soon we had a variety of resources which could be used throughout the school.

To back all this up, after consulting other teachers, I ordered packs of geographical reference books for the school library and books relating to different topics were put in the classrooms for pupils to "dip" into as they please.

As I had my own class, I was not able to support the other teachers in the classroom situation so instead I looked for appropriate Inset courses for some of the other staff to attend. The aim was to find ways to help them develop confidence in teaching particular aspects of the geography curriculum by encouraging them to reflect on their own practice and give them ideas for new ways of working.

When I was able to attend Inset courses myself I gave feedback to the other staff at our weekly meetings. I could show them ideas which I had gathered as well as keeping up with changes in the current requirements of the geography national curriculum.

The Inset courses taught me how to audit the geography programmes of study so as to make sure that all areas were properly covered, giving progression instead of repetition throughout the school. Hopefully, the children would be building on their learning and practical experience of the previous years, acquiring new concepts and skills in geography.

With the help of other teachers I was able to put together a policy statement for geography which includes whole-school, long-term and medium-term plans, assessment of pupils, lists and location of resources as well as a date for reviewing the policy statement.

Co-ordinating a subject was difficult at first, especially as I was new to the teaching profession and had my first class to organise. But with the support of the other teachers and the guidance which I acquired from attending Inset courses I felt that I had a lot to offer the school with my enthusiasm in my specialist subject, and I hope to improve the quality of geography teaching throughout the school.

Esther Burwood-Patterson is geography co-ordinator at Holy Family Primary, Leeds

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