I’m a teacher of children, not a Gove basher. Let’s get real: the new National Curriculum really isn’t the end of geography as we know it.

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‘An’ here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known,’

This is a post about the proposed National Curriculum currently up for consultation.  Before I start, read the document and give your thoughts.   I’m already fed up of the ‘nothing will change so why bother’ response.  My response to this stance is: grow up and take part in the democratic process. 

Now that’s off my chest, a few caveats:

  • This is a response to the Geography Key Stage 3 Curriculum.  It’s the one I know best and feel confident on.
  • I’m a teacher of children, not a Gove basher.  My job is to subvert, change, work with, create, make relevant and bring to life the curriculum for the young people I teach.  I’ll probably not vote Tory at the next election. Then I never have.  I will lobby and support the work of the Subject Associations.  I will get students to hack the new curriculum.  I will help to lead The Geography Collective’s subversion of the new curriculum.  But, my main energy will be in making the curriculum in my department rock.  Bashing the curriculum just because it’s Gove’s is a rubbish argument.  A non-starter.  For starters, he clearly didn’t put every word of it together himself. Probably.
  • There seems to be loads more in Key Stages 1 and 2.  This is great.  Our role as secondary geography experts is to create networks and support our local primary schools.  Don’t wait for the GA or the RGS to do it.  Get out there and make it happen.
  • These are initial thoughts, it’ll take time to understand the implications.  I’m helping my school get through this also. 
  • Start fighting for extra CPD and planning time now.
  • I’m a teacher.  I am a ninja expert in creating learning, putting sequences of learning together and ensuring that I plan for every pupil, every lesson.  It’s our job.  As a professional teacher, I don’t need to be taught or reminded how to teach.
  • Those schools and individuals who ignored the last curriculum aren’t going to change by sending out a new curriculum.
  • No curriculum document is every going to be creative.  Get over it.  It’s a curriculum document.  The cover of the current one is pretty, but it’s still dull.  Indeed, the main difference between the last lot and the new lots is that labour had prettier websites and the coalition obviously read 1984.  The argument that starts ‘ this curriculum isn’t creative’ is the wrong one. And pants.

OK. Let’s go.

The importance and aims of geography

2007 Importance2013 Purpose of study

So Wordle.net isn’t the most scientific of analysis tools and a little reductionalist, but it works for me.  So, which one is which?  With everyone worrying about place knowledge creeping in the new draft, it’s interesting that the first image is the ‘old’ curriculum.  Places is massive.  Also, as the GA fell over themselves to define what knowledge meant, there isn’t really any specific knowledge prescribed.  What’s important in that Geography has a place in the curriculum.  The first line of the ‘new’ KS1,2,3 curriculum:

“A high-quality geography education should inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination
about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”

What’s not to like about that?  In fact, I welcome the addition of ‘high-quality’.

The stuff that we have to teach at Key Stage 3

2007 KS3 Curriculum2013 KS3

Can you tell which is which?  I may be missing something, but there’s nothing really that new in the new curriculum.  It’s just geography.  In fact, it may as well say to me, ‘Just keep teaching amazing geography that you already do, but please ensure that you include these places. Thank you very much.’

Ahhhh! Those Gove knowledge places.  We feared that we would be restricted to the River Nile and that we would have to stock up on red pencils to recreate the Empire. Pupils should be taught to:

  • extend their locational knowledge and deepen their spatial awareness of the
    world’s countries using maps of the world to focus on Africa, South and East Asia
    (including China and India), the Middle East and Russia, focusing on their
    environmental regions, including polar and hot deserts, key physical and human
    characteristics, countries and major cities.
  • understand geographical similarities and differences through the study of human
    and physical geography of a region or area within Africa and a region or area
    within Asia.

I can’t see any problem in that.  How can a young person describe the distribution of geographical phenomena such as tropical storms or earthquakes if they don;t have a solid spatial awareness of the world?  Are there really geography departments out there that don’t already instil this in some way shape or form?  The restriction on Africa and Asia etc etc.  Watch the news.  Where are the new, emerging powerhouses of world economy coming from?  Where has most political strife and change occurred over the past few years?  I think we’d be crazy not to be teaching about these areas.  Personally, I’m happy that the local area doesn’t hit out prominently – it should be covered in primary schools.

But what about this shocker?

  • understand, through the use of detailed place-based exemplars at a variety of
    scales, the key processes in:
    • physical geography relating to: glaciation, plate tectonics, rocks, soils,
      weathering, geological timescales, weather and climate, rivers and coasts
    • human geography relating to: population, international development,
      economic activity in the primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary
      sectors, urbanisation, and the use of natural resources.

‘Place-based examples’? Case studies.  Panic over.  Does anyone really advocate teaching geography without referring to real places?

But what about the stuff that makes Geography, Geography I hear you cry?  Out of classroom adventures? Fieldwork.  Here it is:

  • use fieldwork to collect, analyse and draw conclusions from geographical data, using multiple sources of increasingly complex information.
  • build on their knowledge of globes, maps and atlases and use these geographical tools routinely in the classroom and in the field.

In all honestly, there are other subjects that are going to really have to change.  For example, how many ICT teachers do you know that know how to code?

And climate change?

Pupils should:

  •  understand how geographical processes interact to create distinctive human and physical landscapes that change over time.

As mentioned above, weather and climate is already in there.  It changes. 

How to teach?

What I really like about the new curriculum is that it’s not an instruction manual on how to teach.  We have CPD, PGCEs, Degrees, journals, books, Twitter, face-to-face meetings, conferences and our brains for that.  The responsibility for good teaching rests with school leaders and teachers.  The responsibility for panicking over wide scale change that isn’t change also rests with school leaders.  I wonder if this stems from listening to the rhetoric and the Gove bashers or with a deep understanding of the changes taking place?  Where do our loyalties lie?  In making the best we can for our young people, including letting them understand that this is a political process, or with moaning?

Before I cry ‘Gove isn’t in my classroom’ I should remember his promise to shadow a teacher.  On other thoughts, come along Gove – come to my place any time.  I’d welcome the conversation.

As a school leader?

So, what am I actually doing and planning to do as a school leader?

  • Asked Curriculum Leaders to identify their CPD and writing / planning needs to enable us to produce the best quality curriculum for 2014.
  • Encouraged as many as possible to take part in the consultation. 
  • Audited our current curriculum to the new curriculum.  This has identified plenty of overlap and some gaps.  In any case, there is no need for a whole scale rewrite.
  • Emailed and given hard copies of the relevant parts of the curriculum to my team and warned them that I’m expecting their considered thoughts in a couple of weeks.
  • Started to mull over some #GeoEdChat action and Guerrilla geography action to subvert and highlight.
  • Put together a bunch of young people to hack the curriculum, once on HMS Warrior in Portsmouth, and some more in school.
  • Ordered some new globes.
  • Asked my Head for 4 hours a week at KS3.  Serious.

But mainly, I’m been carrying on as usual.  If your geography curriculum is wholly the same as last year, or the year before then in my view, you shouldn’t be teaching.

Thing is, I’m not on my own (well I may be after this post).

‘I ain’t wasting no more time’

2 Responses

  1. I tend to find that most of the secondary programmes of study are reasonable. I'd urge you to take a closer look at the primary one and see how you feel you can support your colleagues.
    And while I agree that the KS3 curriculum covers the "powerhouses" of the world, but doesn't it strike you as odd that the primary draft has deliberately excluded them?
    And finally… be glad you're not a History teacher 🙂

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