There is no hiding it. I love Geography. I love travel and I love finding out more about the world we live in. Yet teaching Geography today sometimes feels like its become nothing more than just a way of getting another ‘bucket’ of the Progress 8 measures filled successfully! The challenge for a subject leader of Geography is trying to bridge the gap between ‘I want to make every child I teach excited about the world around them’ and ‘we need excellent results this year’.
It seems like there is a big disconnect in Geography teaching today. Organisations like the GA and the RGS-IBG promote Geography in schools and beyond as a way to learn about the awe and wonder of the world. School performance measures and the often bandied about list of ‘facilitating subjects’ promote Geography as a well-recognised and respected subject that can lead to many different futures. But the two do not meet. The point of school Geography, particularly in Secondary school, feels like its stuck between the two. We want inspiring, engaging and challenging Geography taught so students experience the awe and wonder of the world and learn to understand and question it better. But we also need exam results and positive destinations data and leaders of Geography in school have to be able to find the balance between the two things. Most of this is about the vision that you set for Geography in your school and how you balance the two. In setting a vision for a Geography department, I have always started with Alastair Bonnett. Bonnett (2008; 1) states “Geography is a fundamental fascination.” It is about the world and to study it is to explore this fascinating place we live in. His clarity of what Geography is gives the inspirational aspect to why we teach the subject and argues it is “a core component of a good education”; Geography is something more than just another academic subject to be studied. This gives you the intrinsic importance of studying Geography for the sake of studying Geography to the vision.
The second half of the vision has always been about equipping students with the skills and knowledge with which to do this. This is where the results and school performance indicators come in. Good results come from students with the geographical skills and knowledge to apply to the examination questions. After all there is no easier way to ensure excellent results than by making sure your students are outstanding Geographers. Outstanding Geographers want to learn about the world and are fascinated by experiencing more about it. Outstanding Geographers can apply the knowledge they gain to examination questions and get the results.
In short, teaching Geography does not have to mean you are stuck in a dilemma between inspiring a love of Geography in your students or getting excellent results. Both naturally go hand in hand. Although I would say the balance does need to be tipped towards the results in examination years! But hopefully there are have been a good few years of teaching students the geographical skills and knowledge they need to nurture their fascination at finding out about the world leading up to this so that the excellent result they get at the end of the course (due to all those mock examination questions they complained about doing!) shows them just how good they are at Geography and inspires them to carry on being Geographers.