What on Earth has happened to geography?

New research reveals a startling gap in British children's knowledge of the world

One in five British children under the age of 14 cannot find the UK on a map of the world, reveals new research to be published tomorrow.

And one in 10 children were unable to name any of the world's seven continents, the study found. National Geographic magazine questioned more than 1,000 children aged between six and 14. The results highlighted disturbing chasms in their geographical knowledge.

Fewer than two-thirds of children (60 per cent) were able to locate the UK's closest political ally, the US, and despite Iraq dominating headlines in recent years, 86 per cent failed to locate it.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, described the findings as "rather frightening".

"These results underline the need for education to concentrate on the essentials," he said. "How are children going to be able to get as much out of their lives if they fail to understand the shape of the world?"

Scottish children were found to be the most geographically aware in the UK - with 67 per cent scoring highest on identifying England, the US, France, China and Iraq on a world map. More Scottish pupils [98 per cent] were also able to name London as England's capital city than English children [97 per cent].

A spokesman from the Department for Education and Skills said: "Geography is a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for all children between the ages of five and 14. That means all pupils should develop an understanding of where places are. All 14-year-olds should be taught to use atlases and globes, and maps and plans at a range of scales."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) called the magazine's findings "nonsense". She added: "The constant desire for groups to produce statistics to do down the English education system is quite appalling and does nothing to recognise the excellent work of children and staff."