Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools: A Reader

By Maggie Smith | Go to book overview

10

Raising attainment in Geography

Prospects and problems

David Leat

The history of the National Curriculum Geography Orders in England and Wales 1 provides a depressing commentary on the status of educational research, especially in relation to curriculum development. Rawling (1992) provides a telling account of the political constraints that operated inside the Geography Working Group, set up by the Department of Education and Science (DES) and the Welsh Office, which placed much emphasis on the mastery of knowledge by pupils. She writes of the Interim Report (DES and Welsh Office 1989) 'with many paragraphs drawing attention to pupils' lack of place knowledge and the inadequacy of thematic-based courses (e.g. see para 2.14), (Rawling 1992:229). She further quotes the Secretary of State for Education calling, in the House of Commons, for young people to learn about places and where they are and not just vague concepts and attitudes. As recorded in the government-prescribed Orders, the Statements of Attainment (SoAs) constitute a deficit model of the curriculum by stating precisely what pupils need to know.

While some members of the working group and many correspondents in the consultation process made cogent arguments for alternative ways of framing the document, the political view prevailed. The imperative was that: 'Children don't seem to know where places are, what they are like, or why they are as they are - so they had better be taught.' There was no irrefutable case that could be made against this deficit model; there was no weight of evidence that could persuade doubting minds that this was the wrong construction. 2 Research into geographical education or attainment had not generated a compelling alternative.

Sadly, therefore, geography teachers had to proceed with a model that looked doomed from the start, particularly because the assessment framework appeared totally impractical. So the profession beavered away, producing schemes of work, manufacturing elaborate assessment frameworks and consuming literally millions of teacher-hours, only for the inevitable climbdown to occur. In January 1995, after much consultation, new orders were distributed to schools removing some, if not all, of the absurdities of the original orders. 2

However before too much blame is attached to educational researchers, it must be said that where strong evidence did exist to guide the construction of the assessment framework, most notably in science, it did not significantly influence the curriculum orders.

-134-

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