Ofsted has published a national subject report for geography, which finds that there have been big improvements in the quality of geography education since the last subject report in 2011.
Ofsted’s finding is based on inspection of the content taught in 50 schools, which was more challenging and representative of the distinctive nature of the subject than seen in earlier reports. The sustained rise in the number of pupils opting for geography GCSE and A level is also welcomed by the report, as is the significant curriculum development work undertaken in recent years by teachers in both the primary and secondary phases.
The report also identifies challenges for geography education. Recruitment of geography teachers is a significant issue, leading to a high prevalence of non-specialist teaching. Ofsted also finds that teachers of geography, specialist or otherwise, receive very little subject-specific professional development. As the GA has proposed on more than one occasion: there is a clear need for a programme of professional development at all key stages, to support the teaching of geography nationally.
The report finds a wide variation in curriculum time between schools, which affects the way the subject is taught and whether ambitious curriculum goals are being realised. Particular concerns are raised about the quality of curriculum planning at GCSE, where exam specification coverage is often prioritised over learning, and the quality of fieldwork provision across all schools, which has not yet recovered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
GA Chief Executive Alan Kinder said:
“The professional commitment and hard work of geography teachers to achieve the improvements described by Ofsted must surely be one of the key ‘takeaways’ from this report, although more support for teachers is clearly needed in certain areas. In terms of moving forward as a community, many of Ofsted’s observations provide further evidence for the arguments in the GA’s Framework for the school geography curriculum, which emphasises the need for teachers and subject leaders to understand the disciplinary aspects of geography that inform curriculum design, the value of using geographical concepts to shape substantive content and scaffold progression, and the importance of finding time for signature geographical practices (such as enquiry) and for understanding how geography is applied in the real world.”
GA President 2023–24 Denise Freeman said:
“The Ofsted report is a welcome overview of school geography today, at all phases. I was really encouraged by the many positives in the report, and feel the efforts of many teachers to enhance the quality of geography taught in school is well recognised. Of course, there are many issues and challenges raised in the report, particularly recruitment of specialist teachers. The GA is very alive to such challenges (as well as the many achievements in schools across the country). These issues also feature regularly in conversations across the geography education community. The picture painted by the 2023 Ofsted is one that I believe would be well-recognised by those working in and with schools at the current time, and its recommendations are consistent with the experience of many.”