Choose Life…Choose Geography!

Recent press coverage has put geography, my subject, under the spotlight. It is apparent that geography has entered into the fight for its very survival as a curriculum subject. As a Head of Geography in Dorset, I am extremely passionate about a subject that has always been close to my heart. Through geography I have become a voice, a living soul for the planet through which it can teach us about itself and us as its inhabitants.

My argument maybe slightly biased being a geographer but it is still a valid one. Geography is more important today than every 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; how people brace themselves against a sometimes cruel world…Geography has always been a fascinating subject.

Every time I pick up a newspaper or browse other peoples’ blogs I see current issues that need to be taught and explained in full.  If those in a position of authority do not see the importance of climate change and sustainability in the world, I am slightly concerned for the future.

From the recent news coverage there seems to be a policy of educational change. Change can be good. Change can bring many benefits to teachers and students alike. Changes to the curriculum do need to be made but not to the deterrent of several subjects.

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 sometime been losing its position of importance. In KS3, 4 and 5 elements of geography are taught in other subject areas especially science.  With science as a core subject where is geography’s place? We need to define geography as a subject in its own right. The importance of geography needs to be made clear by the Department of Education. We need to reclaim our topics and rebrand ourselves as a twenty-first century subject.

With the planned changes from the Rose Report, History, Geography and Religious Studies would come under the banner of human, social and environmental understanding. The argument is that not having them as distinct subjects would allow teachers to introduce them in other parts of the curriculum. This sounds an interesting idea and provides much scope for Primary Teachers. But are we not doing a variation of this already? Currently in my Department we incorporate literacy, maths and ICT with great success into our lessons. Geography is lucky to be a versatile subject and can be linked fairly easily with other curriculum areas. Like a chaperone we can provide other subjects with a variety of different approaches to teaching a topic.  This gives us as teachers many opportunities to experiment and link up with curriculum areas. Geography could be the catalyst and not the problem in a sometimes packed curriculum.

With the introduction of examination league tables Schools are judged on results for better or for worse. As a subject leader I come under scrutiny for our geography results. With the proposed changes geography will be taught far less than it is today in Primary Schools and therefore results will slowly decrease over time at GCSE. If you are being assessed in a subject then I think you should be taught that subject. I feel Ed Balls and his colleagues are stabbing a good quality subject in the back and are not thinking of the ‘bigger picture’. As Julius Caesar once said, ‘Et tu brute?’

With an ever-changing world geography must be at the forefront of educational thought. Being versatile, experimental, and very much of today it should be leading the future of education. As a teacher I have worked in several forward thinking schools where opportunities to attempt new ideas were welcomed. I am very lucky in this respect. I have been fortunate to have witnessed great teaching in my seven years as a teacher.

We do have the resources, we do have the expertise, we do have the knowledge, and we can change geography 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. All 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.

Finally, as teachers we need to love geography and appreciate its right in education. Geography deserves its place on the curriculum and it is a subject of the 21st Century. I was given the chance to love geography by Mr Currie all those years ago and children should be given the chance to love the subject too.