Competency based learning – some vague thoughts

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Competency based learning is a hot potato.  I was asked to sit on an expert panel at the GA Conference last week that discussed this issue. There were two very good examples of competency based learning provided from Gillots School, Henley on Thames and Bremrose School in Derby. Both schools gave good examples of how geographical learning can be central to such initiatives and how the decision, and implementation of, their schemes were as a result of their learning context.

Below are some thoughts about competency based learning that I have. I am not an expert by any means on competency based learning and would welcome any stories where it has been a success or challenge.

  1. Lots of GA members are concerned about the erosion of Geographical skills and knowledge as a result of these approaches. The GA should be supporting Heads of Geography to ensure that project based learning is centred around geographical themes.
  2. I think that there is little point in arguing against competency based learning if that is what is going on at your school.  Instead, maybe it’s better to focus energy on ensuring that the learning is powerful and that geography is at the centre of it?
  3. The GA should take the fight against the erosion of geography to the Headteachers directly, maybe by getting to events such as the SSAT conference of schools and support Middle Leaders.
  4. I am concerned that both the anti and pro camps to competency based learning can sometimes forget about the learning.  Myself, I’d prefer to see better learning and less geography than large geography departments that don’t meet the needs of young people.
  5. Geography departments have to open out and get involved in the wider school and education communities, otherwise there is a danger of practice, and therefore learning,  becoming fossilised.
  6. Geography is an academic subject that just isn’t suited to all learners at higher levels.
  7. I like the way that the two examples given both moved the focus away from individual lessons and toward learning sequences. I was also impressed by the team teaching element.  I think that three colleagues teaching 70 pupils is a great idea, when it is appropriate.  The wider geography community need to be more creative in their approaches and more open to different ways of learning. There are strong opportunities for professional development by working with others.
  8. Having said this, I strongly believe that all learning needs to be set in context and that geography and geographical issues make a sensible one on which to structure courses.
  9. I am concerned that many of the good news stories are only two to three years into the project so there is little Key Stage 4 data that can be used to analyse the real impact of these changes.
  10. A good point made by Deborah of Bemrose School was that their programme had been designed for their school, and would be unlikely to have the same effect in another school.
  11. I worry that good contact with Key Stage 2 and a focus of strong transition is left out.  Are Key Stage 3 pupils having to start from scratch when they arrive in Secondary Schools?  Many of the Key Stage 2 pupils and classes that I have come across are already independent learners with good social skills.

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