Fieldwork in geography: responding to the 2016 GCSE Geography spec

I’m certain that very few people have failed to notice that GCSEs are changing.  In terms of Geography, the biggest challenge that many face is the changes to fieldwork. During the Year of Fieldwork, we see the most distinctive part of the subject reduce from 25% to 15% and from Controlled Assessment to and examination paper.

Many will not be sorry to see Controlled Assessment go in terms of workload. Although I can understand this, I see it as a great loss to our ability to explore high quality geography: the fieldwork enquiry is what geographers do.  The fear around an exam paper is that students can be drilled to pass them, and I hope that Ofqual try to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Having said this, there are positives:

  • Students will need a deeper understanding of fieldwork and therefore do more of it.
  • The inclusion of two contrasting environments and a signed statement of fieldwork completed provides powerful leverage for more fieldwork.
  • Geography’s position in Progress 8 as an EBACC subject means that regular high quality fieldwork that is embedded throughout all year groups is even more important.
I would urge leaders of geography departments to start the argument now in order to secure fieldwork. In addition, I don’t really see the content changes as too much of an issue – we are geographers and able to learn new things.
The fieldwork aspect of geography, especially how it is assessed, will probably be the key decided factor for my department between specifications.  Of course, none of these have been approved yet. For those in a 3 year KS4 or those in a more traditional model itching to get planning, I would recommend starting with the geomorphology and a development issues as these are fixed as fundamental geographical knowledge and development underpins knowledge and understanding for much of the subject. 
For those that are interested, here are the slides from my workshop:

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