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Placing geography in the curriculum debate

Published on 05/04/19

What does placing curriculum at the heart of our schools and subjects mean to geography students and teachers?

Summer Turner, our Head of Curriculum Development, has already heralded the overarching importance of this approach in her first InspireEd blog post . But what does this mean for an individual subject?

The importance of a geographical education for young people is significant - it ensures they are well prepared to make sense of the world they live in and can engage in contemporary debates around the geographical challenges that continue to shape our societies and environments. This means whilst as geography teachers we want to ensure students’ geographical education at Key Stage 3 serves them well to study and succeed at GCSE/A-level Geography and secure geographical knowledge that will help them unlock understanding in their other subject areas, we are also driven to enable all our students to benefit from an empowering geographical education for its intrinsic value. This is where I think a community of geography teachers that has the time and space to think deeply about their subject specialism comes into its own.

In his editorial of the November 2018 issue of the London Review of Education, Professor David Lambert similarly draws attention to “the enduring and significant task of deepening and extending professional repertoires of thought and practice to do with teachers’ interpretation and enactment of the curriculum. This includes conceptual work focused on the development of subject-specialist teaching and its educational significance for students.” When geography curriculum leaders and teachers from across the Trust meet this is exactly what is at the heart of our conversations as we discuss, debate and deliberate about the significance of the geography we teach across our schools in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Our conversations are also enriched by scholarship and curriculum thinking from across the wider geography subject community. As geography teachers we are lucky enough to be able to draw upon scholarship that is shared by our subject association, the Geographical Association, through its journals (Geography and Teaching Geography).

Geographical scholarship provides us with access to geographical knowledge that we can draw upon in our teaching. Dr Mary Gearey's Teaching Geography article introduced us to Barcelona's 'nature-based solutions' to contemporary urban challenges, which provided a fruitful example that can be draw upon with our year 7 students to help them understand the challenges of urban development.

Geographical scholarship can give us the impetus to reflect on geographical concepts and how they are taught and encountered by students across their geographical education. Professor David Hicks’ Teaching Geography article around the ‘wicked problem’ of climate change stimulated our discussion about how our students through their geography lessons come to appreciate the multi-faceted nature of climate change. Recently there has been much concern for whether climate change is being taught about within school. Steve Brace, Head of Education at the Royal Geographical Society, has articulated the significant role school geography plays in ensuring that all students learn about and understand climate change in a recent article for TES. In our curriculum planning as a subject community, we spent time thinking about where students encounter and learn about the different dimensions of climate change across Key Stage 3. We posed and endeavoured to answer a plethora of questions: when do our students learn about how the impacts of climate change play out differently across the world and are exacerbated by other geographical issues? How do we illuminate the challenge of big (but uncertain) risks that are associated with climate change for ecosystems, food production and extreme weather? Do we do enough to highlight how complex and inter-related these challenges are? Do we do justice to illuminating the ethical dimensions that are inherent in how governments mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change?

Geographical scholarship also enables us to reflect on the rich everyday geography that is part of our students' daily lives and how better grasping that geography is both empowering and intriguing for our students. Lauren Hammond reported upon her research in Geography, which explores how the conceptualisation of the ‘production of space’ from academic geography can enhance young people's understanding of space in relation to their own national identity. Lauren Hammond’s research focusses upon what young peoples’ narratives reveal about their geographies and imaginations of London, but we discussed this in relation to the way our students connect with the landscapes and environments around them and how this might mediate the way they envisage current and projected impacts of climate change affecting their everyday lives now and in the future.

Ultimately, time and space invested in geography curricular thinking brings us together as a geography subject community. This illuminates the importance of our identity as geography teachers both in sustaining us as professionals and for the benefit of our students and their geographical education across the Trust.