Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Learning about global issues remains underdeveloped, says Ofsted

Geography in schools is not doing enough to help children develop a picture of climate change, learn to lead sustainable lives and find their feet as global citizens of the 21st century, according to a new report published today.

At a time when geographical issues such as floods, rising sea levels, conflict resolution, famines and trade disputes constantly make the headlines, there is some evidence that the provision of geography is declining, says Geography in schools – changing practice, published by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).

The report shows that in primary and secondary schools, although there are many good lessons, too much teaching and learning is mediocre and pupils’ achievement is weaker than in most other subjects. Many children interviewed in Key Stage 3 said they found geography boring and irrelevant, and the number of children choosing to study the subject at Key Stage 4 (age 14-16) continues to fall.

Ofsted’s report describes good practice which, if adopted more widely, could help to reverse this trend. It also highlights the way successful geography teachers are using outdoor fieldwork activities to boost understanding of the subject, raise standards, and motivate pupils.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills, said:

“Geography is at a crucial period in its development. More needs to be done to make the subject relevant and more engaging for pupils, particularly at Key Stage 3.

“However, it is very encouraging to find that in those primary schools where geography is well managed and well taught, the subject thrives and contributes positively to children’s development.”

In most of the geography lessons observed for this report, teachers had good generic teaching skills, for example using focused questions or supporting individual pupils effectively. However, some of the teaching lacked challenge. In primary schools in particular, teachers were still not confident in teaching geography and had little or no opportunity to improve their knowledge of how to teach it.

The majority of the primary and secondary schools in the survey did not recognise the value of fieldwork sufficiently and did not fulfil the requirement to provide it. Concerns about health and safety, curriculum time, expertise and budgets reduced the amount and effectiveness of fieldwork. Yet schools with a good programme of fieldwork find that this motivates pupils and enhances their interest in geography, as reflected in the better take-up of geography at Key Stage 4.

Knowledge and understanding of the global dimension and fieldwork skills are identified in the report as important in helping to develop pupils’ understanding of local, national and world communities and their role as citizens. This ranges from issues such as local town planning, transport and the use of green space to international trade and their role as consumers. The report gives the example of trade in commodities such as chocolate or bananas, and the impact of the choices consumers make. Pupils can also learn about global issues, such as diversity, human rights, justice and sustainable development, so contributing to National Curriculum citizenship.

The Ofsted report recommends that the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should continue to provide financial support for the Government’s Action Plan for Geography, which stresses the value and importance of ongoing subject specific professional development in revitalising the teaching of the subject.

The report recommends that local authorities encourage the development of networks of schools, in order to share and develop good practice in geography. Schools should evaluate provision for geography against the report’s findings in order to identify and tackle aspects requiring improvement. They should also recognise the value of fieldwork for improving standards and achievement in geography.


1. Geography in schools – changing practice is published today on the Ofsted website at:

2. The report draws on evidence from Ofsted’s school inspections from 2004 to 2005 and on specific surveys of geography conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) and Additional Inspectors between 2004 and 2007 in primary and secondary schools. Survey work in schools focused, in particular, on the impact of fieldwork on provision in geography, the monitoring of the pilot GCSE and teaching about the global dimension.

3. During 2003, schools were invited to become involved in a radically different GCSE pilot examination in geography, which placed a greater emphasis on assessed units of work throughout the course and an examination at the end of the first year of study. In September 2003, 18 schools joined the pilot as cohort 1, with a further 32 schools in September 2004. Currently, the number of schools involved has risen to approximately 74.

4. In 2004/05, the last year for which national data are available, pupils’ achievement in geography was good in only 40% of primary schools, and very good or excellent in only 6%. In secondary schools the last available national data showed that achievement in geography was good in over half of schools inspected, but there was a lower proportion of very good achievement than in other subjects. Inspectors found the quality of much teaching and learning in Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) continues to be mediocre, often because secondary schools focus resources and expertise on examination classes, assigning non-specialists to teach at Key Stage 3. The Secondary National Strategy has had only a limited impact on improving geography teaching.

5. The QCA and subject associations recognise that geography is at a key point in its development. The White Paper 14–19 Education and Skills singled out the subject at Key Stage 3 as in need of a radical change of direction. It recognised the need to reform the curriculum and to ‘develop better guidance and training for geography teachers’. The need to revitalise geography is reflected in the recent review of the curriculum and in the launch by the then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) of the Action Plan for geography, which grew from consultations and discussions with teachers, schools and the wider geography community.

6. From 1 April 2007 a new single inspectorate for children and learners came into being. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) has the responsibility for the inspection of adult learning and training – work formerly undertaken by the Adult Learning Inspectorate; the regulation and inspection of children's social care – work formerly undertaken by the Commission for Social Care Inspection; the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – work formerly undertaken by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration; and the existing regulatory and inspection activities of Ofsted.

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