Ofsted Report: Geography Learning to Make a World of Difference

In February Ofsted published a report on the state of Geography in British schools. I read it when it first came out but I have not had time to blog about it.

My comments are based on the Secondary findings although the report talks about both primary and secondary geography.

They made some general comments about acheivement in Geography:

  • Students core knowledge was weak (in this context it refers to place based locational knowledge).
  • Most of the students had poorly developed map work skills.
  • Teachers did not give students to use maps and develop real world competence in map work skills.

Ofsted identified features of good geography teaching:

  • Teachers having high expectations.
  • Work that dealt with interesting and contemporary issues, particularly when incorporating information from newspapers, journals or news broadcasts.
  • Intensity in the pace of learning with no slack time.
  • Compiling helpful revision notes as a continuing part of the course.
  • In examination classes going beyond the basic requirements of the syllabus to develop thinking  and enrich geographical vocabulary.
  • Units of work that identify opportunities for students to consolidate and enhance cross-curricular skills such as literacy numeracy, ICT, and practical citizenship.
  • Developing moral and cultural awareness by exploring topics such as immigration, asylum, refugees, international aid and trade issues, climate change and human rights.
  • Building in opportunities for students to develop enterprise, financial skills and teamwork.
  • Developing teamwork during fieldwork and residential trips.
  • Lessons enhanced with interesting visual resources such as google earth and video clips from YouTube.

They also identified features of bad geography teaching:

  • Emphasis on covering content neglecting active learning.
  • An over reliance on text books focusing on factual recall rather than exploring ideas.
  • Using a rigid three part structure which stifles spontaneity and creativity.
  • Starters that were based on simply copying, or did not relate to the main lessons.
  • Plenaries that summarised the lesson rather than reflecting on learning.
  • Asking only closed questions rather than probing students to explore ideas more deeply.
  • Poor marking of students work which was often irregular, not sufficiently formative, nor specific to geography. Targets were often phrased too generally to be helpful.
  • Insufficient opportunities for enquiry-based work.

I agree with the report itself. I think at the time of publication the press produced articles that picked out the negatives. It is a useful tool for self evaluation both for individual teachers and subject leaders.

The full report can be found on the OfSTED website here.

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