Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools: A Reader

By Maggie Smith | Go to book overview

2

School Geography in England 1991-2001

The politics and practicalities of curriculum change

Eleanor Rawling


Why 1991?

1991 was a key year for school Geography. In that year the Statutory Order for Geography in the National Curriculum was published. To achieve Geography's acceptance as a NC subject and its 'place in the sun', the Geographical Association (GA) had campaigned vigorously and many hailed this as a significant triumph for the subject community (Bailey 1991). In fact, geographers paid a high price for this victory. With its five traditionally focused attainment targets and 183 content-based statements of attainment, the 1991 Geography Order seemed to signal a move back to the kind of informational/utilitarian tradition from which Goodson (1998) claims the geography community had worked so hard to break away since 1950. The overlapping programmes of study did not make a workable curriculum framework and the Order seemed to ignore features such as key ideas, geographical enquiry and issue-based investigations in Geography, characteristic of the previous twenty years of curriculum development (Rawling 1992; Lambert 1994; Roberts 1991). Stephen Ball (1994), in his work on the influence of the New Right, commented on the consequences of this repositioning of the Geography curriculum as he saw it:

With its undertones of assimilation, nationalism and consensus around the regressive re-establishment of fictional past glories, restorationist National Curriculum geography isolates students in time and space, cutting them off from the realities of the single European market, global economic dependencies and inequalities, and the ecological crisis.

This experience of complete curriculum upheaval was shared by many other curriculum subjects, as a result of the processes set in motion by the Education Reform Act. Ball (1990) examines the conflicts which characterised the production of the Mathematics and English Orders, and other authors have investigated the experience of non-core subjects (e.g. Evans and Penney 1995 for PE; Phillips 1998 for History). In each case, as Ball points out, contestation over the detail of subject knowledge represented a power struggle for domination and for prestige by

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