Teacher Education and the Supply of Geography Teachers in England

By Tapsfield, Andrea | Geography, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Teacher Education and the Supply of Geography Teachers in England


Tapsfield, Andrea, Geography


As a secondary geography teacher, have you recently had difficulty recruiting a geography specialist to teach in your department? If you are involved in training new teachers, have recent reforms in teacher education in England affected you?

The Geographical Association has been investigating the above questions, and in April 2015 published a national research report on Geography Initial Teacher Education and Teacher Supply in England(GA, 2015). This article summarises the report's findings and its implications for geography initial teacher education (ITE) and teacher supply in England. The report identified concerns about geography specialist training for new teachers and highlighted clear signals of a looming crisis of teacher supply in geography.1 Subsequently, the GA's Teacher Education Special Interest Group has continued to monitor ITE policy and recruitment patterns.

The current situation in geography teacher education

Partnerships between universities and schools have a great tradition of providing ITE in English schools, but recent reforms have dramatically shifted the balance from university-led to schoolled training. In university-led routes, schools provide teaching experience and mentoring; whereas in school-led routes, schools lead on recruitment and often on training provision too. In 2011-12 around 20% of new geography trainees were trained through school-led routes, but the government has been encouraging schools to become more involved through School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), Teaching Schools and School Direct initiatives2 (DfE, 2010). The proportion of geography places allocated directly to universities has been reduced by one-third - a sharper fall than in most other subjects (Universities UK, 2014).

Although hundreds of new geography ITE providers have emerged, the recruitment of trainees for geography has become increasingly problematic (National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) and Department for Education, 2010 onwards), such that, in September 2014, only 60% of the 1001 allocated geography ITE places were filled. In September 2015, the picture was very similar, with universities and SCITT providers filling 80% of their allocated places while School Direct filled only 40%.

Both university- and school-led routes involve a significant amount of training in school and this requires high-quality placements. Ofsted no longer reports specifically on geography in either ITE or schools, thus ITE providers do not have inspection evidence for quality geography provision, and prospective trainee teachers cannot identify the best geography training based on objective evidence.

School leaders are increasingly concerned about the shortage of qualified applicants for geography posts. The under-supply into both training and teaching goes back to the 1990s (Millett, 1999) and the real extent of the shortage of qualified geography teachers in our schools is masked by non-specialist teaching. Since 2011, the government has looked to tackle teacher supply problems by groups of schools bidding for training places based on anticipated future vacancies. Attempts have also been made to boost ITE recruitment by designating geography as a 'priority' specialism and by increasing bursaries for trainees.

Key findings from the GA's research

The development of subject-specific knowledge and pedagogy is an important element of effective ITE geography training. However, there is a wide range of subject-specialist input across different routes, as the GA found, 'from under 30 hours in one SCITT to over 200 hours in a university-led scheme' (2015, p. 5). Some school-led partnerships rely heavily on generic training in the absence of a dedicated ITE geography leader.

The vastly increased number of providers has led to smaller cohorts. The GA noted that 'almost all school-led geography training occurs in cohorts of less than six [and] two-thirds of School Direct geography cohorts are single individuals' (2015, p. …

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