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Changing places at A level

“If learners are to understand that place meanings really do matter then it is no bad thing for them to synthesise information from their own personal experiences of place alongside whatever contexts their textbooks and teachers want to talk about.”

Simon Oakley, 2010

Topics on this page:

What place understandings are required? | Case studies of practice | Resources and information | Reading

What place understandings are required?

In the A level geography specifications, the concept of place significantly progresses upon GCSE understandings. ‘Changing places’ requires students to study at least two localities – one where they live, and one or more contrasting locations. A further dimension of place that students need to understand as a result of their A level study is place meaning and representation.

  • Read the paper by Phillips (2016), which provides detailed background information about the content of the new A level content from the perspective of an academic geographer who was a member of the advisory panel.

The subjective element of the A level specifications is a definite departure from previous expectations for A level geography. When this new element of place was introduced into A level, teachers and examination boards were given a strong steer that learning might make greater use of artefacts such as art, poetry and photography. It was expected that students should understand how their own lives are affected and explore how they have been influenced by different place meanings and representations.

  • Read Oakes (2020) for an explanation of the different people who are involved in A level curriculum making: teachers, examination boards, textbook writers and the students themselves.

Case studies of practice

There are several Teaching Geography articles that describe how teachers have designed and taught Changes places courses that include some innovative ideas.

Cooper et al (2017) outline how they tackled planning the unit of work. Healy (2018) and Alcock,(2018) suggest ideas for using local organisations and setting up interviews to explore changes in places. 

Brand (2020) suggests a role of video ethnography in exploring changing places and Pert (2010) outlines how she planned fieldwork in Scarborough, which although before the introduction of the current A level has elements that are well-suited to meeting the new requirements.

Clark and Spamer (2017) draw on the principles set out in an article in Geography to ‘unravel the palimplest’ in their local area. In order to help students understand the idea of identity in understanding ‘place’ that is integral to the specifications, Barnard (2018) used a game with his students. Hoare (2019) writes about a model Sheffield case study. This is available on the GA website.

Resources and information


  • Alcock, D. (2018) ‘Interaction, integration and innovation – an approach to “Changes places” at A level’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Barnard, V.E. (2018) ‘The Identity Game’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Brand, S. (2020) ‘Capturing a ‘sense of place’ through fieldwork’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Clark, C. and Spamer, K. (2017) ‘Unravelling the palimpsest of Hessle Road, Hull’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Cooper, R., McGrath, A. and Fielden, N. (2017) ‘Changing places: Elstree and Port Talbot’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Healy, G. (2018) ‘Using local organisations and geographical scholarship to support A level place studies’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Hoare, C. (2019) ‘Kelham Island: a model case study?’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Oakes, S. (2020) ‘Place meaning – opportunities and challenges for A level curriculum making’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Oakes, S. (2022) Changing Places (Urban and Rural: Geography Subject Knowledge Programme), Royal Geographical Society
  • Pert, F. (2010) ‘Urban rebranding: case study of Scarborough, a renaissance town’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Phillips, R. (2016) Changing Place; Changing Places. London: Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).