Chalk Talk: Geography or French? We keep on changing the subject

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The Independent Online

If there's one thing that Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, has taught us in the past month, it's the extent to which the league tables shape the curriculum that is offered to pupils.

A report on geography last week showed that half the primary schools visited had all but abandoned teaching the subject in the final year of primary school until national curriculum tests in maths and English were out of the way. Perhaps not entirely unrelated, the number of specialist geography teachers employed in schools appears to be on the wane, too.

This has had the effect of making those who are forced to teach the subject being so lacking in confidence about their subject skills that they cannot even assess adequately the work of primary aged pupils.

Of course, before the concern over geography's decline, there was the concern over languages take-up in schools. The decision to make it a voluntary subject for 14 to 16-year-olds, coupled with the fact that the key measure in the league tables (five A* to C grade passes including English and maths) does not mention the subject, means that its place in the curriculum is still spiralling downwards. Last year the percentage of state schools at which 75 per cent of pupils studied it up to GCSE fell from 26 per cent to 21 per cent.

Of course, help is at hand now. Education Secretary Michael Gove's new English Baccalaureate (another category on which schools are now ranked in the league tables), which includes in the eligible subjects both languages and geography, has prompted a rethink.

Several schools are said to be reshaping their curriculums to revive language teaching for 14- to 16-year-olds from September. The only trouble is, it is often at the expense of arts provision and (a subject growing in popularity recently) religious education, neither of which would qualify a pupil for a baccalaureate certificate as things stand at present.

All this appears to show that it is impossible to draft a league table measure without provoking a disadvantageous and hitherto unthought- of alternative reaction. If Mr Gove bows to pressure to include the arts and religious education in the baccalaureate, will that halt any revival in the take-up of geography?

As for healthy eating, further proof that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. More than 80,000 tons of food is being thrown away by English schools every year, according to the environmental charity Wrap. Fruit and vegetables are the most likely items to be discarded, it adds.

r.garner@independent.co.uk

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