Palin joins £2m drive to end geography crisis in schools

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The Independent Online

The Government is to give schools an extra £2m to improve the teaching of geography.

The campaign will be launched tonight by the former Monty Python star Michael Palin, whose travel documentaries have reinvigorated the television genre. He will highlight the importance of geography in tackling issues such as global warming, telling his audience: "If we don't understand geography, we can't properly understand the past, present or future of our planet."

The move follows a report from Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, which found that geography was the worst-taught subject in primary schools. The Government's exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has further warned that the subject is in a "vicious circle of decline" in secondary schools. As a result, a generation of young people are not being properly educated about vital global issues, government education advisers say.

Figures show that GCSE entries in the subject have slumped by a third since 1996, and A-level take-up by about a quarter. In addition, about 25 per cent of lessons in secondary schools are taken by teachers not trained in the subject.

The number of pupils studying geography dwindled after it stopped being a compulsory subject on the school timetable for those over the age of 14. A similar fate has befallen modern foreign languages.

Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, said: "It is the only subject in the curriculum which can get to grips with issues like climate change, rises in the sea levels and vital national and global issues. There is an awful lot of good geography teaching in schools, but quite a high proportion of geography lessons are taught by non-specialist teachers in secondary schools.

She added that one reason for its decline was the fact that the geography curriculum had not been updated since the 1980s, when the national curriculum was first introduced in schools.

As a result of today's package, devised by Mrs Gardner and David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, - both of whom have now been appointed as advisers to the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly - schools will be sent videos of celebrities visiting different parts of the world in a bid to make lessons more interesting. Every secondary school will also be sent a copy of Palin's book, Himalaya.

Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said: "The great thing about the Palin book is it shows the relationships between the places and the cultures. He is the equivalent for geography of what Simon Schama and David Starkey are in relation to history."

In addition to the celebrity videos, a squad of "geography ambassadors" will be recruited from the ranks of recent university graduates in the subject, to visit schools and tell pupils what a degree in geography can qualify them for.