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The new A-levels What kind of subject background do freshers arrive with? Bob Digby Community Geographer, Geographical Association, & Visiting Research.

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Presentation on theme: "The new A-levels What kind of subject background do freshers arrive with? Bob Digby Community Geographer, Geographical Association, & Visiting Research."— Presentation transcript:

1 The new A-levels What kind of subject background do freshers arrive with? Bob Digby Community Geographer, Geographical Association, & Visiting Research Associate, Institute of Education, London

2 Where we are now This September sees the arrival of the first 4-module A level students The new specifications – what kind of Geography? And whose Geography? Geography has faced declining numbers at A level – but its changing School Geography – a need for renewal. The problem of Key Stage 3.

3 Declining numbers Continued decline at GCSE However, Higher Tier entry at GCSE has declined much less Increasing core time – English, Maths, Science The rise of diplomas

4 Decline at AS 12 th most popular subject nationally But 9 th at A2 Retains over 85% of students from AS to A2

5 But numbers are rising again AS Numbers rose in 2009 by about 5% The removal of coursework from 2008 may actually have attracted some students back to the subject. GCSE coursework has done the subject few favours – too bulky

6 2. A need to get up to date Eleanor Rawling (GA 2005 conference) expressed these concerns about what was missing in Human Geography: Increased concerns about e.g. globalisation, global warming Spatial awareness of e.g. the new Europe Environmental interaction – footprints and management Global concepts e.g. sustainability Geographical enquiry – active questioning approaches, less didactic Significant changes in university geography were absent (e.g. cultural, ethnographic, place….) awarding bodies have tended to standardise content … (fearing) that innovation will lose customers anxious to play safe & maintain high grades

7 3. Whose Human Geography? Looking back 30 years Until 1980s, Higher Education input into school Geography was considerable – landmark projects at GCSE and post-16 (e.g. Bristol Project, Avery Hill, 16-19) all developed within universities and colleges Exam Boards were all university-based (London, JMB of the Northern Universities, Oxford, Cambridge Boards, etc) - so HEI geographers played a role in school Geography Authors of texts were usually HEI geographers Local Authority Advisers - almost always specialist subject-focused

8 A shift in content from landforms

9 .... to people and management

10 ... with casualties

11 Issues-based topics thrive

12 e.g. urban change

13 4. Political landscapes change; whose Geography now? Centralisation and political influence. QCA (until 2010) guided both curriculum and assessment – run by professionals, but guided by politicians. League tables and the shift to a results culture - and innate conservatism especially in content and assessment Ownership of Exam Boards - the shift from HEI Privatisation of the education industry – private companies, examiners and exam boards, and consultants dominate INSET provision. Textbook authors are now mainly teachers and examiners, not HEI tutors

14 5. The new specifications – some issues Human content at AS Human content at A2 The IB - growing in popularity The Pre-U course in Geography - a competitor? How fresh or up-to-date?

15 What kind of human content at AS?

16 What kind of content at AS? The physical-human divide persists in 3 of the 4 specifications One specification (Edexcel) truly integrates physical and human themes BUT there have been significant updates in all specifications- e.g. urban change, and contemporary topics e.g. health issues Plus the decline of traditional geographical theory E.g. no urban models; no Weber; no Christaller Geography can compare poorly for theory with Sociology, Economics or Politics

17 What kind of content at A2? Unit 3

18 What kind of content at A2? Unit 4

19 What kind of content at A2? The physical-human divide is more blurred Some highly contemporary themes - e.g. some Edexcel (Cultural landscapes) & WJEC options Only one specification (Edexcel) makes understanding of political and economic theory a requirement A clear focus on research rather than content An opportunity for development of students own interests Three of the four specifications offer pre- release resource Contemporary topics – e.g. cultural diversity

20 And growing in popularity is the IB Doubled in candidature …. by comparison to some specifications it looks very traditional.

21 Exemplar Paper 3 Topic Global Interactions 1.Measuring global interactions 2. Changing spacethe shrinking world 3. Economic interactions and flows 4. Environmental change 5. Socio-cultural exchanges 6.Political outcomes 7.Global interactions at the local level 60 hours teaching time (12-15 comparable weeks, or 20-25% of an A level course) But it too was revised for 2009

22 The Pre-U Geography course 1.Anti-modular: All Cambridge Pre-U syllabuses are linear. Those taking a Principal Subject must take all components together at the end of the course in one examination session. 2.Re-establishes physical geography: but reduces an entitlement to human? e.g. Paper 1

23 The Pre-U Geography course Paper 2 focuses on different physical environments Paper 3: Global Themes - study two from Housing the People Movements of People and Goods Energy and Mineral Resources Trade, Debt and Aid The Provision of Food Tourism Spaces The World of Work Paper 4: Research - an oral examination based on a geographical investigation

24 How fresh or up-to-date are the new specs?


26 Wheres the commonality? Purple = compulsory, yellow = optional

27 –There remains a market for traditional geography. But the greatest growth in subject take-up occurred during in one modern post-16 syllabus. Should Geography be more daring? –Should Geography teachers be more daring – they, after all, are the gatekeepers about curriculum choice –A new generation of teachers has replaced an ageing profession. In which areas of human geography are recent graduates best qualified? –How to further reduce the gulf between school and HEI Geographies? 6. And the future? Questions: 1

28 6. And the future? Questions: 2 –Does difference in content between specifications matter? Do students need grounding in the same content areas prior to university entry? –How far does it matter in universities that coursework has been abolished in sixth-form Geography? –Does it matter that there are different Geographies depending upon the specification chosen? –In selecting what should be taught, how far should geographers push for popular themes? Historians have unashamedly increased numbers dramatically. –New specifications will last for 5-8 years in schools, and therefore up to 12 years in HEI. Will the new specifications provide a sustainable legacy?

29 7. The debates remain as ever …. –Traditional versus new (and for many teachers, unfamiliar) –Populism – e.g. coasts versus glaciation and arid –Content breadth versus limited content in depth –Thematic versus people-environment approaches –Prescribed, problem-free content versus issues- based, evaluative enquiry approaches –Positivist hard data gathering versus radical and soft approaches to fieldwork through interviews and values enquiries.

30 Acknowledgments and thanks to: –Subject officers at the 4 main English and Welsh subject boards; –Simon Oakes for the use of his research into HEI attitudes towards school geography; –Edexcel for the use of their commissioned HEI research; –The GA and the RGS for their positioning statements regarding Geography and its status; –The RGS for their annual analysis about candidate numbers in Geography

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