Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools: A Reader

By Maggie Smith | Go to book overview

20

Is Geography history?

Rita Gardner and Lorraine Craig

The past few years have seen worrying trends in the numbers of pupils studying Geography in the United Kingdom. Between 1999 and 2000 the numbers taking the upper school assessment in Geography have dropped by 12 per cent, and the subject has fallen from being the fourth most popular in 1996 to eighth place in 1999. At the middle school assessment, Geography has retained its seventh position, the highest-ranking subject that is not part of the National Curriculum for 14-to 16-year-olds, but the total number of candidates is also down. 1

Comparisons with History in particular are a matter for concern, for both are in the same position as optional subjects in the middle school and, increasingly, owing to pressure on option time in the curriculum and the increasing number of options, pupils are required to choose between these two subjects. While Geography has shown a continuing trend of decline over the past five years, History has held its numbers better.

The picture for geography graduates entering the teaching profession tells a similar story, in terms of both numbers and quality. Geography was declared an official 'shortage' subject last year for the first time, and it now joins the ranks of most of the other National Curriculum subjects in this respect. Reports from the national educational standards watchdog (Ofsted) indicate that the quality of geography teaching in the critical 11-14 age range is not as strong as it ought to be.

The cumulative effect on numbers entering higher education (HE) is now beginning to bite, with more departments having to top up numbers or even substantially recruit through clearing 2 this year, and with entrance grades falling as some institutions strive to attain targets. Coordinated action is required at all levels to reverse this trend. This editorial seeks to document and explain recent trends, and identify possible implications and courses of action.


Decoding the evidence

Middle school

Although Geography has maintained its peak position in the subject 'league table', there has been a steady decline in the numbers taking the middle school (14-16) assessment: from 302 298 in 1996 to 251 605 in 2000. The reasons for the decline in

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