Geography teaching in decline – Ofsted

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The Independent Online

The parlous state of geography teaching in many state schools is exposed today in a damning report by inspectors.

More than 100 secondary schools do not enter a single pupil for a GCSE exam in the subject, according to Ofsted, the education standards.

In addition, pupils’ map-reading skills are so poor that even pupils who had done a topic on Kenya could not find the country on a map of Africa.

Figures show 137 secondary schools – up from 97 three years ago – did not enter a single pupil for geography GCSE. Amongst the Government’s flagship academies, 19 – treble the number three years ago – failed to enter a pupil.

The picture is one of decline in primary schools, too. with one in ten having now all but abandoned teaching the subject despite its place as a compulsory national curriculum subject up until the age of 13,

In half the schools surveyed, teachers did not understand enough about geography even to assess their pupils’ work accurately.

“Few teachers provided geography-specific guidance for pupils to be able to understand what they needed to do to improve in the subject,” the report said.

In addition, little or no geography was taught in the final year of primary school ing until youngsters had finished their national curriculum tests in maths and English.

In secondary schools, the inspectors’ verdict was: “Uninspiring teaching and the lack of challenge discouraged many students from choosing geography at GCSE.”

The report added that pupils’ “mental images” of the world “were often confused”.

“They were not able to locate countries, key mountain ranges or other features with any degree of confidence,” the inspectors reported.

The inspectors argue that with more national focus on issues like climate change, population growth and natural disasters such as the Queensland floods, the time is ripe emphasise the importance of geography rather than preside over its decline.

Yet the figures show that take-up of geography at GCSE declined yet again last year by one per cent.

“The quality of provision was declining and the timer allocated to the subject in the first critical years of secondary schools was being reduced,” they added.

The picture that emerged from school visits was a mixture of “outstanding” and “inadequate” provision. The report talks of the “sharp contrast” between different schools.

In the schools with the best provision, pupils were taken on regular fieldwork trips which inspired a love of the subject.

However, just over half the schools surveyed failed to take advantage of fieldwork.

“In approximately, one in 10 of the primary schools visited, geography was more or less disappearing,” it added.

“In approximately half the primary schools visited, pupils in some classes were taught no geography at all.

“Improvements were often being slowed down by primary teachers’ weak knowledge of geography, their lack of confidence in teaching it and insufficient subject-specific training.”

Stressing the importance of the subject, the inspectors repeat an argument used by the devisors of the national curriculum: “The study of geography stimulates an interest in and a sense of wonder about places.

“It helps young people make sense of a complex and dynamically changing world.”

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector said: “Geography provision was outstanding in over a quarter of all the schools we visited but just over half were not using geography to good effect to support pupils in understanding their role in their locality, their country and the wider world.”

Dr Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, added: “All young people should have the opportunity to experience a good quality geography education so they can understand the world’s places, people and environments.”

She said the Coalition Government’s plan to introduce an English baccalaureate in which obtaining an A* to C grade pass in a humanities subject – either history or geography – was a compulsory element should increase take-up of the subject.