Where now for geography?

Where now for geography?

With the recent election, I thought it was time to reflect upon the education changes it could potentially have. For the past five years we have undergone a huge change in education within the UK. The election in May gave the country a chance to make a change, and potentially, stop some of the changes that will be affecting the next generations’ school experience and learning. It was recently announced that all secondary school pupils in England will have to take GCSEs in five core academic subjects, under plans set out by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

Mr Gibb says he makes “no apology for expecting every child” to have a “high-quality education”.

The Conservative manifesto pledged that all pupils would take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and either history or geography. The Conservatives’ election manifesto said that pupils would have to study GCSEs in the so-called EBacc subjects – English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. And that if schools did not offer them, they would not be eligible for a top Ofsted rating (this would not apply to pupils with special needs).

As a geography teacher I am torn between applauding Nick Gibb for raising geography’s profile as a subject and that we are not offering students a wide broad curriculum for all students. As a teacher of geography, I want students to want to be there, not forced. I do see change as a good thing. Change can bring many benefits to teachers and students alike. But changes to the curriculum do need to be made but not to the deterrent of several subjects and choice for young people.

Bill Watkin, operational director of the school support and training body SSAT, said many heads felt the EBacc was not appropriate for all youngsters and that many head teachers in England will refuse to make all pupils study five traditional GCSE subjects, a director of a prominent education body has said. He said a recent snapshot survey of members had been inundated with school leaders saying they would rather lose their top rating than adopt a one-size-fits-all approach

Those schools that do not have 100% of pupils studying this set of subjects as part of their GCSE courses will not be able to obtain Ofsted’s top rating of “outstanding”. The government said the wraparound qualification had been introduced to ensure pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were not deterred from studying academic subjects.

But Mr Watkin said: “The risk is that pupils who can’t access some of these subjects will become disaffected and disenfranchised. It may cause some pupils to do less well in their exams.”

Where now for geography?

In recent years press coverage has put geography under the spotlight. According to Hannah Richardson of the BBC; ‘geography was declining in many of England’s schools as pupils turn away from a subject they find “boring and irrelevant”.

‘Ofsted said that in one in 10 primary schools visited by Ofsted, geography was said to be disappearing. The report also points out shrinking numbers of secondary pupils are taking the subject at GCSE and A-level.

It feels that geography has entered into the fight for its very survival as a curriculum subject.

To me, geography is more important today than ever before in today’s uncertain times. When I was at school I was taught by some inspirational teachers like my old geography teacher Graham Currie. I was transfixed by the awe and wonder of our planet from the amazing landforms of glaciation, the climatic changes on the earth and how people brace themselves against a sometimes cruel world. Geography has always been a fascinating subject.

Every time I look at my phone, iPad or even a newspaper I see current issues that need to be taught and explained in full.  Young people need to become global citizens and encouraged to learn about their local area, their county, their country and about the world. Geography has for some time been losing its position of importance. In KS3, 4 and 5 elements of geography are taught in other subject areas especially science.

As learners we need to love geography and appreciate its right in education. Geography deserves its place on the curriculum as it is a subject of the 21st Century.

I ask is that our Ministers and Education Authorities stop and think. They must speak to the teachers in Primary, Middle and Secondary Schools. They have to find out how these changes will impact on a child’s learning. I openly invite Nicky Morgan or Nick Gibb to visit and listen to my views.

As teachers we do have the resources, we do have the expertise, we do have the knowledge, and we can change education for the better for the future. But without the right backing I sadly see a curriculum lacking in vision and failing to provide the future generation the right knowledge to tackle it.

Think before you tweet!

Think before you tweet!

For the past four years I have been a fan of twitter (@tiddtalk). It has enabled me to network very freely with other like minded teachers and educators around the world. This can enable you to spread information very quickly on what is happening now or a particular moment. It is an excellent resource to spread information especially if you have updated your blog and are looking for instant readership. It is a great use of technology and is something I have found to be a great source of learning and enjoyment.

Recently at my school, twitter and blogging has taken off with a recent twilight on the subject. This is fantastic news for my fellow teachers for their CPD and for our students. But we have to be very careful with what we write and who we share this information with. As long as we are professional and think before we tweet we should not fear this medium of sharing information and knowledge. Twitter is here to stay and is the future of learning. Using technology in the right way can only improve our lessons and sharing of ideas.

We have created @GillGeographers for our students to follow in geography. This will be a dedicated twitter address for geographical events that are taking part in the world, to improve case study knowledge, world issues and information regarding the geography department.

With @GillGeographers and for my school I have come up with a few twitter rules:

• Keep your ‘school/education/department’ account to be used for school separate from your personal one. I do not let any student follow @tiddtalk, I check my followers daily and block any students who have found me as it is my private account.

• What do you want to do with this account? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want to communicate? Your ‘school/education/department’ twitter account could be used as a broadcast account to start off with sharing news links and information. This is perhaps the “safer” option initially as you get used to using twitter and what you want to do with it.

• The account will need to be looked after and kept up to date as social networking is an immediate thing which can demand an immediate response. Will there be just one person who will post or will you have multiple people who post? Remember to keep it simple to start with.

• Who do you want to follow? I think it would be unwise to follow students as it would be possible to direct message (private message) them. The @GillGeographers account will not be following anyone as there is no need to.

• How will you respond to questions directed at you? Do you need to send a message to a student via twitter? I think twitter is appropriate for students to send a message to your school account if it is a task related assignment i.e. find a news story on the Arctic and they send you the link for example.

• Never give out personal information such as your address/phone number/personal things – remember this is your school/education account!

• Don’t say anything on twitter that you wouldn’t say face-to-face. Remember it is a public space – it’s not the same as sending an email or a text message to one recipient. Once sent, tweets can be seen by anyone and if retweeted, can quickly take on a life of their own even if you delete it!

• Choose a strong password (a mixture of numbers and letters which would be hard for anyone else to guess) and do not share it.

• Turn off the ‘add location to tweet’ feature – to do this, click on the ‘settings’ option from the drop down menu to the right of the search box and untick the box (if it is ticked) next to the ‘add a location to my tweets’ option and then click on ‘save changes’.

• Think carefully about the details you put in the ‘bio’ section and any photo’s you use.If you have a personal twitter account I would advise you to not follow the ‘school/education/department’ one as students will only look at your account and follow you & potential other teachers who you follow in your followers list. This only creates work for you blocking them! @tiddtalk is open to the world to view so students no doubt have looked at it but it is not for them to follow (@GillGeographers is for them!) I think very carefully what I put up there as anyone can read it.

• And probably the most important rule, think before you tweet!

Think before you tweet!

I have tried to keep these rules simple and so teachers do not get into trouble using twitter.

Additionally to this, Jim Docherty, assistant secretary of the SSTA, told BBC Scotland that teachers should follow this advice: “First thing is don’t bother telling anybody else about your social life. Nobody is interested about your social life and it doesn’t help.”

“Secondly, never make any comment about your work, about your employer, about teaching issues in general. There is always a possibility it will be misinterpreted.”

Contact me via @tiddtalk to let us know how you are getting on with twitter and it’s use in your classroom. Remember, think before you tweet!

Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee

For those that know me, I do like my coffee – especially on a lazy weekend catching up with friends and family. I recently got contacted by Costa Coffee regarding their Costa for Schools resources. I am a big fan of their coffee but had never looked or knew about their school resources.

Costa for Schools is a comprehensive human and physical Geography resource for students aged 11-14. It explores coffee-growing communities around the world and how the coffee trade affects their lives. These are great education resources and they are free – great for those magpie geographers out there!

Currently, there are three lesson plans that can be used flexibly over an individual lesson or over three lessons to build on previous knowledge. No doubt Costa for Schools will be expanding these resources over time.

They cover key aspects of the Geography curriculum at KS3, including:
•Cultural understanding and diversity

For my school, they would add a great resource to our Year 9 unit; ‘Why is Africa Disconnected?’ Along with these lesson plans there are a wide range of case studies (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Colombia, Uganda, Vietnam, Honduras and Peru) that could be incorporated in your lessons. For more information please follow this link to the Costa for Schools website.

New KS3 NC

New KS3 NC

Before Michael Gove made his ‘big’ announcement regarding the National Curriculum changes we had been looking at how we were going to improve geography at Gillingham School at Key Stage 3. For the last year our primary target for improvement has revolved around teaching & learning within Geography. We have spent the last year looking at our Key Stage 3 lessons seeing where we can make improvements and implement new teaching strategies. We have been trying to make the teaching experience more personal for the students and improve their independent study skills. This is being developed from KS3 onwards and carried on into KS4 and KS5.

The curriculum map we have designed is set in a specific way. Most importantly it allows students to follow a natural progression building up skills and using them in a number of different ways. The progression also leads through to Key Stage 5. We are aiming to promote progression in a number of ways;

  • Depth of knowledge
  • Breadth of study
  • Complexity of concepts
  • Independent learning and research
  • An increase in spatial scale

Progression is mainly achieved through deeper understanding and increasing complexity of tasks. There is also a broadening of the breadth of study. More explicitly we are looking at increasing spatial scale, increasing awareness of society, economy and the environment. Work is currently being undertaken to ensure that there is smooth progression from KS2 to KS3 and also from KS4 to KS 5.

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

  • Rainforest
  • Map work*
  • Tribes & Cultures
  • Crime
  • Hazards 1 – volcanoes & earthquakes*
  • Olympic Legacy
  • Population
  • Rivers*
  • Feeding the World
  • Ice Age
  • Energy
  • Antarctica research*
  • Hazards 2 – extreme weather
  • Deserts
  • Why is Africa disconnected?*
  • Coral Reefs
  • Sustainability
  • Hazards 3 – tsunami
  • Climate change*
  • Coasts
  • China
  • Stourhead
  • Buy a rainforest
  • Disaster Management Day
  • World Food Day
  • Fairtrade Fortnight
  • Brecon Beacons
  • Oxfam Unwrapped
  • World AIDS Day

*Levelled assessed piece of work

KS3 is the building blocks of a successful education. Key Stage 3 can be sometimes be forgotten about in this world of examinations at KS4 and 5. The young students at KS3 need the skills and knowledge to help them in their later geography education. We are currently devising seven topics containing eight lessons for each year group. This would enable free time for us to look at world events that take place i.e. Geography Awareness Week, Fairtrade Fortnight, Japanese earthquake etc. This new format and the topics decided upon can be seen in the table above.

We are entering a very exciting time at Gillingham School where we are creating an innovative and inspirational curriculum for our students. There have been some rollercoaster moments but none which were unexpected. My department has been working really hard on these lessons and I am 100% happy with what has been planned so far – well done team, you have been brilliant!

Movie Magic


Back in January 2010 I wrote about hoe films can enhance a teachers lesson on my blog and for Sec-Ed in April 2009. I have always been using documentaries and footage from DVDs and videos in my lessons. It got my mind racing on different aspects of films that could be shown to pupils within different subject areas. I soon realised that films could enhance and develop a pupils learning and encourage them to be life long learners.

Films can enhance a lesson and excite a young mind with their powerful and thought-provoking subject matter. My good friend from my Southampton University days, Dr. Pietari Kaapa of the University of Helsinki, has stated that, ‘cinema as both a popular form of entertainment and a means of artistic and political expression, is a crucial area of classroom teaching. The pedagogical potential of film provides an immediate and invigorating addition to established lesson plans, while the history of the medium and its contextual socio-cultural relevance function as sources of study in their own right.’

As a Geography Teacher I have used a wide variety of different films to help show and back up key terminology or sometimes complex geographical features. The world today has created a generation of young people with very active minds. The days of a teacher in a classroom talking for 50 minutes are long gone and would not generate much enthusiasm from today’s young learners. Interaction and variety is what is needed to engage learners and film is one medium that can grip a young person’s attention. Film can enthuse and generate much debate and help a learner.

Pupils are requested to use and take part in different types of media within their learning from the National Curriculum. Films like music should be encouraged to be used within the classroom. My good friend and former flatmate, Nick Hargreaves, of Radipole Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, believes that ‘films are a really valid text as much as books. With the National Curriculum we have to look at various types of media within a child’s learning and film is one way.’

‘Films are not always easy to understand and it does take time sometimes for a young learner to fully understand the complexities of a film like the music changing in relation to the mood of the film.’ As we are aware there are three types of learners; visual, auditory and kinesthetic. A film is one medium that incorporates all three learning styles and can hold the attention and pass on knowledge and understanding to all three main learning styles. Nick Hargreaves says ‘film takes into account how a learner learns…it attracts the three main types of learners and engages all of them in one sitting. It reaches out to all target levels especially boys’.

I remember reading Great Expectations at school and found watching the David Lean adaption a much-needed guiding hand when it came to revising for the GCSE. A film may not always be true or correct, but in the right hands, us as teachers, we can filter out the bad and use the great pieces of film there is out there waiting to be used. I would really like to know what films you use in the classroom – do you have a ‘Top Ten Movie List’? Please send in your comments via the comment box below or by twitter @tiddtalk – I look forward to reading your choices!



Former colleague and NQT Amber Moore has recently started her own blog on the adventures of being a Geography NQT. The new blog is entitled geogonthespot! Amber recently returned to Gillingham School, after completing her PGCE at Plymouth University, to observe some KS5 lessons and help out on our Stourhead Orienteering Year 7 fieldtrip.

Amber will be completing her NQT year at Avon Valley School in Wiltshire. You can view her blog here or follow her on twitter @AmberKatja

Good luck with your NQT year Amber!

Well Done OB!


Well done OB!

My good friend, Ollie Bray, has achieved his life long dream of becoming a Head Teacher at Kingussie School in Scotland. I have known Ollie since our university days in Plymouth and he was always driven to succeed. He is one of the UK’s leading educators on new technologies within the classroom. His blog, olliebray.com, is always high on my list of blogs to read. It is a fantastic achievement for all the hard work he has been doing over the last twelve years. I remember sitting in a pub in Plymouth, back in 1999, asking him about his future plans. Teaching was firmly on the agenda after his year working in the Cairngorms as an outdoor instructor. From that conversation I started to seriously consider teaching as a future career choice (its all your fault Ollie!)

I am really looking forward to hearing about Ollie’s adventures and futures successes! Well done Ollie – it’s a fantastic achievement!