Geography classes 'ignore key issues'

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The Independent Online

Children are being let down by boring geography lessons which fail to teach them about vital global issues such as climate change, according to a damning report by the education watchdog Ofsted.

The quality of geography lessons is declining at a time when many of its most prominent issues, such as floods, rising sea levels, famines and trade disputes should be making the subject one of the most important in schools, Ofsted inspectors say.

Children are increasingly opting to drop geography aged 14 because they think it is a "boring" subject with little relevance to their lives. Too many are denied the opportunity to go on field trips because of fears about health and safety, inspectors said. Two-thirds of schools failed to meet the requirement to take pupils on geography field trips.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: "Geography is at a crucial period in its development. More needs to be done to make the subject relevant and more engaging for pupils."

Disenchantment with geography has seen GCSE entries in the subject fall by more than a third since 1996, to 213,124 last summer. A-level take-up fell by a quarter in the same period.

Eleven to 14-year-olds were most likely to complain that their geography lessons were boring. This was the age group who were often taught by non-geography specialists, inspectors noted in their report, Geography in Schools – Changing Practice.

Too much teaching and learning in geography is "mediocre" in both primary and secondary schools, the report concluded. Pupils' achievement was found to be weaker in geography than in most other subjects.

Inspectors found that successful geography teachers used outdoor fieldwork to boost understanding of the subject, raise standards, and motivate pupils. Inspectors also warned that the "global dimension" of the subject is not being taught well in most schools.

This means pupils do not study enough about climate change and fair trading in goods such as bananas.

The report was based on Ofsted inspections of dozens of schools and geography lessons since 2004.

Jim Knight, the Schools minister, said that government reforms introduced last year were already tackling the problems highlighted by the report.

Dr Rita Gardner, the director of the Royal Geographical Society, agreed that many of Ofsted's concerns had begun to be addressed but said that many teachers still needed to "raise their game".

How children miss out

* By looking at a trade in a commodity, such as bananas or chocolate, pupils can learn how consumer choices affect individuals and environments around the world and develop an awareness of international trade.

* The idea of "global footprints" can be used to raise awareness about how people can improve the environment or damage it, allowing pupils to measure their own use of resources. Pupils learn that they can influence their local environment and the global environment.

* Pupils can study floods in Britainl or hurricanes in the Caribbean to learn about changing climatic patterns and global warming.

* Schools should make links to show the global dimension of geography. For example pupils who collect money for charity to provide a water supply in Bolivia should then have the topic developed.

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