Training New Geography Teachers

Article excerpt

Andrea Tapsfield examines the state and status of geography teacher training in England.

Geography NQTs who enter secondary teaching today are better trained than ever before. That is official. It is what Ofsted have found from their inspections of geography ITT courses and it is also reflected in the NQTs' views of their training (Figure 1). Ofsted rated 80% of geography courses to be good or very good at their last inspection. The satisfactory courses were mainly the smaller ones.

There are 41 courses training secondary geography teachers in England. Most are PGCE courses in universities and colleges, but there are five school-centred courses run by consortia of schools. Unlike some other subjects, such as mathematics, there are few part-time or 'flexible' courses - the Open University runs the main one and only one undergraduate course. There are only a handful of geography teachers trained through employment-based routes such as the Graduate Training Programme, compared to subjects such as science or languages. Inspectors have recently reported that the provision of structured subject training is a common area for improvement in these schemes (Ofsted, 2007).

Geography is very fortunate to have some very effective geography tutors training the next generation of geography teachers. But they are facing pressures that make the high quality of their training difficult to maintain because the DfES predicts a reduced need for secondary teachers in England and has cut back geography training places1. By 2008 there will be around 400 fewer geographers being trained (Figure 2), and since 2006 the training places allocated for geography include more than 60 for leisure and tourism.

Figure 3 shows the current location of geography training courses in the UK. It illustrates how the cuts in geography training numbers are unevenly distributed across the English regions. This does not always reflect the local demand for teachers. The graphs show the training places in each region and the reduction between 1999/2000 and 2007/08. Geography course tutors report that demand remains high for PGCE geography places and their trained NQTs. A survey undertaken by the Geographical Association's Teacher Education Working Group found that schools were phoning local universities in July 2006 to seek new geography teachers to fill vacancies, but all those available had been snapped up. The geography educators' community is very concerned that a shortage of good qualified graduate teachers is around the corner, and as Professor Ashley Kent of the Institute of Education has said: 'Without energetic, enthusiastic, inspiring and efficient geography teachers the future of our much-loved subject has to be in doubt' (Kent et al., 2004).

Although the Teaching and Development Agency's remit is to allocate funding for courses in relation to their quality, some large geography courses of high quality have seen harsh reductions. For example, one provider graded 'excellent' in its last full Ofsted geography inspection has seen its 20 places in 2005/6 fall to 13 for 2007/8, while another has dropped from 40 to 25 places. Yet smaller geography courses with an Ofsted grading of 'satisfactory' have had no cuts. …