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GA response to the Ofsted research report on geography (June 2021)

Ofsted has published a research review into factors that influence the quality of geography education in schools in England.

The review explores the literature relating to the field of geography education. Its purpose is to identify the nature of high-quality geography education in schools, by reviewing pedagogical approaches, assessment practices and the impact whole-school policies and systems have on geography education.

The GA is pleased to find, within the report, that a wide range of research and insights from the geography education community itself proved of such great help in its production. The report rightly recognises the important contribution of geography to the education of every child and young person, and acknowledges this is a subject that is receiving ever greater attention in schools across the country. The report is correct to conclude that the trend within schools away from thematic or topic-based approaches has helped to bring greater clarity to the geographical nature of study, which in turn can help teachers to address misconceptions pupils might have about the world.

Ofsted’s report invests teachers with wide-ranging responsibilities for content selection and curriculum design, a stance which echoes the GA’s view of teachers as professionals in possession of significant agency. An important implication, unstated in the report, is that professional teachers need to be well supported by national curricula and qualifications frameworks that provide structure but also preserve choice. However, the report does recognise that professional support and development for teachers is crucial and that there is a need for more teachers and schools to gain access to the subject-specialist support provided by organisations such as the GA. The report correctly concludes that this is particularly important in geography, not only in the primary phase but also in secondary schools, where there are a significant number of non-specialists teaching the subject. To give examples, it identifies distinctive and valuable geographical tools, such as fieldwork and GIS, that merit further attention and support in schools.

The report begins to explore the importance not only of learning well-sequenced geographical content, but of learning geography as a discipline. Much more work is needed here to create clear messages and understandings. From a GA perspective, disciplinary knowledge means learning about the purposes of geography, how geographers think, about the methods geographers use to create valuable insights about the world and the range of ideas and perspectives that make geography a truly global subject. The GA stands ready to support a programme of engagement by Ofsted with teachers, in order to convey the key messages contained in such a lengthy and complex report and to clarify ambiguities within it, so that teachers know how best to build disciplinary knowledge and conceptual understanding into their curriculum planning and teaching.

GA Chief Executive Alan Kinder said:

“Naturally, the GA welcomes all contributions to the debate around what constitutes high quality curriculum development and teaching in geography. We share the ambition to raise the quality of geography education for all young people and have pursued this mission since our foundation, in 1893.

As a professional association that acts independently of government, the GA has already begun its own fundamental review of curriculum thinking in geography education. Its intention is not only to review the current research, but to provide an influential contribution to future thinking by identifying the underpinning principles and components of a high-quality geography curriculum. That work, which commenced earlier this year, is due to conclude and report in 2022″.