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Post-16 teaching

“For many geography teachers, A level represents the epitome of teaching. It is the opportunity to develop mastery of the subject for both your students and also for yourself.”

Mark Harris, 2017

Topics on this page:

What is post-16 education in England? | How different is post-16 teaching? | Preparing for university | Reading

What is post-16 education in England?

All young people between 16 and 19 must study in full- or part-time education. This does not mean that all young people have to stay in school full-time; they can go to college, take up an apprenticeship or part-time training.

There are many different post-16 qualifications, but the main ones are:

  • A levels: mainly academic subjects
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): offering a wider range of subjects than A levels
  • Vocational qualifications: training for specific jobs, e.g. NVQs and BTECs.

Geography features strongly in A levels and the IB, but there are tenuous links between vocational qualifications and geography because of the emphasis on work-related skills. 

The overlap in subject matter is apparent in only a few units and often the geographical content is implied rather than explicit. The two main areas that broadly link to geography are qualifications for the travel, tourism and leisure industries and those related to the environment.

Students who want to take academic qualifications have the option to enrol in a school sixth form, a sixth-form college or a general further education (FE) college. Generally, vocational study is taken at FE colleges but increasingly in schools too. 

Sixth forms can vary a lot in size and in the courses and facilities they offer. Sixth form and FE colleges tend to be larger and more informal than school sixth forms.

FE colleges offer similar courses to sixth form colleges. In many FE colleges you are likely to be in a ‘department’ of only one or two specialists who offer geography throughout the college on a variety of courses as well as teaching A level. FE geographers often work on multi-disciplinary course teams, for example in areas such as Leisure and Tourism.

Oakes and Rawlings Smith (2022) ask what constitutes a good A level geography education and discusses teachers’ perception of the purpose of school geography at post 16.

How different is post-16 teaching?

Rawlings Smith (2017) writes:

‘Many of the challenges of teaching post-16 geography, particularly for new teachers, stem from a lack of detailed knowledge of human and physical geography. High-quality resources and CPD can address such challenges, providing subject updates and opportunities for teachers to develop new skills and tackle subject areas not covered during their own undergraduate experience and to actively engage in the curriculum-making process’. (p. 265)

She sets out some suggestions in Figure 12 on page 274 for activities you can engage in that will refresh and develop your own subject knowledge.

The principles of good teaching at post-16 are not radically different from teaching younger students. Of course, at A level the content is at a higher level and more challenging intellectually. 

Heed the comment at the top of this page. However, at the start of their post-16 studies, students are still only just beyond year 11, and the difference at first is imperceptible.

There are new skills for post-16 students to be taught such as note taking, essay writing, and report writing and they must hone their independent study skills, including learning how to elicit geographical information from a variety of sources. 

See Harris (2017) for teaching techniques to develop these skills in A level students. Many of the vocational courses emphasise the importance of student-centred learning, particularly group reports and presentations. Travel, tourism and leisure courses offer many opportunities for visits and fieldwork.

When you plan post-16 teaching, avoid adopting a ‘spoon-feeding’ approach with content-heavy handouts. Try to explore a wide range of strategies and you will see how effective geography teaching at post-16 has much in common with teaching younger students.

  • Refer to Rawlings Smith (2017) pp. 265-275.

The biggest difference in a FE college is that students may include young people and adults of all ages, and the range of academic ability may be wider. Beyond GCSE, students tend to move out of school uniform and appear more adult, which can diminish the age-gap between a new teacher and a Y12 student.

You need to work on portraying the professional role and image of a teacher in these circumstances. Consider carefully the practicalities of how to approach class management, ensure work is completed on time and encourage student participation – all of these can differ considerably from what you expect in younger classes.

For further information refer to Teaching strategies to use with post-16 students.

Preparing students for university 

As a new teacher, possibly with recent experience of studying geography at university, you might be asked to discuss options with university applicants.  As teachers we have a role in encouraging students to study geography at university and to help support their choices and applications.  While teaching A Level classes you should consider how you could promote geography study at university.  

A geography teacher should always follow the school’s policies and systems when supporting students in this way. There are others, such as year tutors and career advisors who responsibilities in this area. Some students may be interested in careers that utilise their geographical studies without studying for a degree.  

The Royal Geographical Society has useful information you should explore: 

Look at the GA Conference 2024 presentation on Geography at university where Stefan Carron and David Preece discuss supporting students to choose geography courses at university. 

Read the scenarios at the end of this presentation and discuss with teachers what kind of support/guidance you would offer to these sixth formers and when. Also discuss with them, who else may you have to involve to ensure the student is fully supported to make the right decisions?

Reading

  • Harris, M. (2017) Becoming an Outstanding Geography Teacher. Routledge, chapter 11 Teaching A Level.
  • Oakes, S. and Rawlings Smith, E. (2022) ‘What constitutes a good A level geography education?’ Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Rawlings Smith, E. ‘Post-16 geography’ in Jones, M. (ed) (2017) The Handbook of Secondary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical Association. This chapter is mainly about strategies for teaching A level geography.