Geography teaching has improved significantly, but more focus needed on fieldwork

Ofsted has today published a subject report looking at how geography is being taught in England’s schools

The report draws on evidence from subject visits to a sample of primary and secondary schools.

Read the ‘Getting our bearings: geography subject report’.

Inspectors have found that there have been significant improvements in geography education since the subject report published 12 years ago. This is particularly true at primary level and key stage 3. In almost all the schools visited, leaders had made changes to the curriculum to ensure that knowledge was better sequenced, so children could build on what they had learnt.

However, this review found that children’s opportunities to learn and develop their fieldwork skills are still lacking at both primary and secondary level. This extends beyond the challenges that were presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In primary schools, fieldwork is often conflated with field trips. Pupils may go out of school on a visit, but they are rarely learning how to collect, present and analyse geographical fieldwork when they do so. In secondary schools, pupils rarely do fieldwork beyond the requirements of the exam boards. Most schools simplify this fieldwork so that pupils can give prepared answers in the exam, leaving pupils ill equipped for the non-examined assessment at A-Level and higher education.

The report also identifies the need for better support for non-specialist teachers and more subject-specific CPD for both specialist and non-specialist teachers.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:

"Geography is vital to children’s understanding of our physical world. It’s great that both primary and secondary schools have made such strides in their geography teaching. Pupils are now being taught a much more ambitious and challenging curriculum.

"I hope that schools can now focus on ensuring that children get more opportunities to develop their data collection and analysis skills so they can master the fundamentals of geography fieldwork."

The report makes a number of recommendations for how schools can ensure that all pupils receive a high-quality geography education, including:

  • Making sure that the curriculum supports effective transition between key stages so that content builds cumulatively and is not repeated.
  • Giving the same level of thought to the curriculum at key stages 4 and 5 as is given at other key stages, including considering how to sequence the content of exam specifications in a way that allows pupils to develop a fuller understanding of the subject over time.
  • Teaching pupils about fieldwork. Pupils should know how to collect, present and analyse data, and how to reach and evaluate conclusions based on this data.
  • Considering the prior knowledge that pupils need in order to access more complex ideas and concepts so they can develop their expertise in the subject.
  • Considering how pupils will build on knowledge, not only within a topic but over a series of topics, so that they can apply what they have learned in different scenarios.
  • Planning how to identify and address likely misconceptions in each topic.