Curriculum changes–some reflections

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Even through my short career, there has been constant change.  It sometimes seems that the road ahead is sometimes more of a roundabout.  Is the curriculum stuck in a continual cycle?  This post will be of interest to teachers of geography, although the points could be applied to the profession as a whole.  It promises to be a messy post this one!

Through involvement in the Geographical Association, I’ve come across the Standish proposals. (Download here as a PDF).  Here are some of my own reflections on the changes:

1. Conversations about WHAT we teach are as important as HOW we teach.

I believe that we should always be talking about pedagogy and content.  The National Curriculum for England and Wales has always allowed time for teaching addition topics (admittedly, the first incarnation had far too much content to allow this!).  I’ve always engaged in the what and tried to encourage debate within the department around this.  As a result, we have chosen which perspectives we teach from, which content we cover, for example.  The current changes and consultations challenge us as a profession to engage in WHAT should be included and I believe that we should be engaged in that debate.

2. We must move beyond the ‘it’s boring’ argument.

To me, the Standish curriculum is morally wrong.  It presents one viewpoint, that of Regional Geography, which in turn presents one version of the ‘truth.’  I believe that the curriculum should encourage young people to engage critically with their surroundings.  To actively question, find problems, solve them and find out about the interactions between their environment and the people around them.  This curriculum is based upon a US higher education system, not the one we have in the UK.  We need to urge the UK academic community to engage with the debate.  There is no personal geography in there and those that chose which countries to focus on will create the ‘truth.’

To me, the Standish curriculum is far too prescriptive and has far too much repetition.  As a ‘part’ curriculum it would take far too much time to cover the content. It does not reflect current school geography, nor the time it would take to change things (having said that, neither do the alternatives…)

What it is not, is boring.  A curriculum document will never be inspiring.  To me, it’s not a valid argument to simple say ‘It would be boring to teach.’  It’s our interpretation of a curriculum that is creative, inspiring and imaginative for students.  No GSCE or A’Level specification has ever set my world alight.  Come to think of it, only the ‘Importance of Geography’ statement in the existing National Curriculum is that interesting.  Does that mean that students find geography and geography teaching at our school boring?

3. It’s really hard to create a curriculum.

I wouldn’t have a clue where to start in deciding what every person in England should be learning about in geography.  I’ll leave the politics to the politicians, but I will ensure that I engage in every opportunity to ‘have my say.’

Personally, I’m not in a position to decide what geography is needed, especially if it is to tie in to higher education.  I can only provide part of the picture.

4. Head teachers need to put as much trust in the professionalism of their teachers as the coalition promise to do. (I know that promises can be broken.)

This comment is  still in formation, and I admit that it is naive and idealistic Winking smile

I’ve always had a issue with the argument that a curriculum doesn’t mention X, Y and Z.  I suppose, fieldwork may be an exception to the rule, but technology, for me is an issue.  If we are striving toward a situation where the use of technology is not the main focus of learning (in geography) but a pervasive presence, then why does it need to be mentioned?  Maybe this is putting too much faith in the argumentative talents of school middle leaders?  I know that my argument is linked to learning, not the curriculum.  The exception is fieldwork, which is justified by its inclusion in Exam Specifications and the National Curriculum.

5.  There is always some positive

Standish is highly respected by the DfE.  They asked him to produce the curriculum.  It mentions a lot and clearly sets out earth sciences (physical geography) as a clear part of geography.  Science’s curriculum gets agreed a long time before geography’s.  Science also have a claim to earth sciences…..

Anyhow,  if you’re a geography teacher, and even if you’re not.  I would strongly urge you to engage with the debate.

2 Responses

  1. interesting stuff alright.

    i am no expert in reading curriculum but as a teacher of Geography I worry that this version seems to be a whole pile of stuff we have to get into the heads of our pupils.
    There doesn't seem to be enough room for personal choice for the teacher or the students. There is also no mention of personal geography (though i think i could fit it in amongst the 'local geography' section)
    I am old enough to remember my head of dept cutting up the 144(?) statements from the first version of the national curriculum. I can see her desperately trying to plan the curriculum so that all boxes could be ticked off. i worry there is more than a element of that in these 17 pages.
    I agree with you that as a secondary geography teacher i only see part of the whole but i do not want my pupils experience at KS3 and 4 to be too determined by what universities say they should know.
    Finally my "there is always some positive" would be that i have every faith in my own ability to put a #geographyriot tinge to whatever curriculum is put upon me. 🙂

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree that the lack of personal choice is wrong. I also agree that Gove isn't in my classroom! 😉

    I know that I deliberately focused on HE providing alternatives, but am aware and indeed champion other options. However, I feel that Geography is essentially and academic discipline past KS3, and healthy HE geography departments are needed to provide the future of the subject…

    I agree about the length. If what I understand about what the DfE want (essentially 2-3 pages), both Standish and the GA's are too long. However, I'm not too familiar with the politics to say…

    I too plan lots of #geographyriot s. 🙂

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