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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
2m to halt decline in geography
Secondary schoolboys
Weaknesses in geography teaching were identified two years ago
The government is to give England's schools almost 2m over two years to encourage children to study geography.

Celebrity videos sent to schools and "ambassadors" recruited from recent graduates will try to persuade more pupils to study the subject.

Take-up has declined since geography was made a non-compulsory subject after the age of 14.

Schools minister Andrew Adonis said it faced "challenges" such as weak teaching at Key Stage 3 (age 12 to 14).

Primary teaching has also been identified as weak by the education inspectorate, Ofsted.

The Department for Education and Skills said the falling numbers taking GCSEs and A-levels needed to be tackled.

Last year, 28,710 students in England sat the subject at A-level, compared with 30,123 in 2004.

At GCSE level the figure was 193,363, a fall from 203,797 - which makes geography still one of the more popular subjects, but less so than history and French.

Lord Adonis said the investment would make geography "more inspirational and relevant" by giving teachers more support and professional development opportunities.

"We want pupils to enjoy geography and to develop their analytical skills by exploring and questioning the world around them."

Lack of specialists

Two years ago Ofsted warned that geography was the "worst-taught subject in primary schools".

It said a whole generation of children may not be learning about global issues such as climate change, drought, famine and conflict, because of poor teaching.

Last year, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which regulates the curriculum for the government, warned that too many schools lacked specialist teachers, and teaching and progress was "poor compared to other subjects".

The government has appointed Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, and David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, as expert advisers to the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly.

Dr Lambert, who previously has spoken of a "worrying decline" in the subject's popularity , said this was "a significant moment for geography in schools".

"This is a subject of enormous potential to help young people grapple positively with all manner of issues that will affect their future lives."

The package of measures for schools includes:

  • Geography "ambassadors" including Nick Crane from the BBC's Coast and Nick Middleton, from Channel 4's Surviving Extremes, as well as recent graduates

  • A national website for teachers to access resources and additional resources for the Key Stage 3 curriculum

  • Fieldwork and leadership training and chartered geography status for teachers

  • Quality marks for schools

The campaign to revive geography will be launched by former Monty Python star and travel documentary-maker Michael Palin.

He said he "could not imagine a subject more relevant for schools".

"To really understand the world you need to get under the skin of people. In other words, learn about geography. We would all be lost without it," he said.

Every school will be sent a copy of his book, Himalaya, which describes his journey through the mountain range from Afghanistan to south west China, and his encounters with the civilisations bordering it.

Children 'failed in geography'
24 Nov 04 |  Education

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