Keeping Up with Curriculum Change

By Kinder, Alan | Teaching Geography, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Keeping Up with Curriculum Change


Kinder, Alan, Teaching Geography


Alan summarises the curriculum changes that will soon affect the teaching of geography in the secondary phase and assesses their implications for teaching. He suggests some opportunities they might offer the subject community.

The curriculum change context

As one of the few school subjects that equip students to think critically about the future, we should expect geography to cope well with the unprecedented scale and pace of curriculum change currently underway in England. Armed with a broad perspective, well-honed decision-making skills and a strong subject community, geographers are likely to respond to system change with a good deal of resilience. Nevertheless, it takes a considerable effort of intellect and will to make sense of the flurry of policy announcements soon to impact upon all phases of compulsory education and on the secondary phase in particular (Figure 1 ). This article is intended to assist in that process, by summarising the changes and suggesting implications for teaching.

Changes to key stage 3

The statutory national curriculum for key stages 1-3 has very recently undergone a process of draft reform (www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/ departmentalinformation/consultations). The final Orders are due to be published by September 201 3, and to be applied to all English maintained schools from September 201 k (Figure 1 ). This is a new approach to writing a national curriculum - a concise document which limits its ambition to setting out 'the knowledge and understanding that all children should be expected to acquire in the course of their schooling' (Df E 201 0, para 4.7). In truth, these draft Orders do not really constitute a curriculum at all, since they do not arrange or sequence content, nor indeed specify the level of detail teachers are expected to provide. They should more usefully be thought of as criteria for a minimum entitlement, on which teachers should aim to build something worthwhile. This entitlement is, however, constructed around a robust spine. Hamnett (201 3) identifies three aspects in particular:

* improved locational knowledge, e.g. where countries, climatic zones and vegetation belts are;

* better balance between physical and human geography, supporting better environmental understanding;

* sound understanding of the how and why of geography - the social, economic and environmental processes that help explain why environments, places and societies are different and how they are changing.

Hamnett (ibid.) argues that the draft puts 'understanding of processes back into the context of countries, linking thematic processes and places together. Well taught, this can provide a much-needed and sound basis for later study'.

Place knowledge, geographical processes and some technical procedures (such as map skills) are all emphasised within the draft, so the requirement that all students acquire this core knowledge and understanding is likely to provide some challenges. Improving students' locational knowledge may prove to be one of these. Hopkin (201 2) notes how the requirement to teach location has diminished with successive iterations of the national curriculum (Figure 2). In 201 1 , Ofsted found that 'students, especially at key stage 3 in ... weaker schools, had poorly developed core knowledge in geography. Their mental images of places and the world around them were often confused and lacked spatial coherence.' (Ofsted, 201 1 , p. 6). Yet knowing the location of a place is one of the prerequisites to understanding its characteristics, the ways in which it is changing or even why people might feel attached to it. Students who do not develop a coherent framework of locational knowledge are less able to 'use the uniqueness of places to explain why the outcomes of universal environmental and human processes may vary, and why similar problems may require different strategies in different places' (Lambert et al., 201 2, p. 3). Where departmental schemes and practice have neglected or underplayed the teaching of location, the challenge will be to find new and engaging ways of doing so, as well as the means to ensure locational knowledge contributes to thinking geographically (rather than to the creation of a gazetteer of countries, cities, rivers and other features). …

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