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New World Views – What Can Teachers Expect From The Latest GCSE Geography Specifications?

From new topics to a greater emphasis on writing skills and the UK, Helen Young highlights what teachers need to know about the latest GCSE geography specifications...

  • New World Views – What Can Teachers Expect From The Latest GCSE Geography Specifications?

As the new specifications for GCSE geography are taught for the first time this year, teachers across the country are trying to implement the changes that are required. So what changes are taking place and how will teachers put them into practice?

Two key changes are the removal of the tiering system and the introduction of numerical grading. The removal of tiers will bring geography in line with subjects like history, where there have been no restrictions on student attainment. Comparisons over student (and therefore departmental) performance should be more equitable, as the ‘ceiling’ for foundation students will disappear.

The uncertainty over which paper borderline students sit will be removed, although teachers will need to familiarise themselves with the standard of work required for each new grade in order to make accurate predictions. Additional support will be needed for some learners to help them to access materials. 

The volume of core content for geography has increased and now includes topics like geomorphological processes and resource management. This has led to a narrower choice and some teachers teaching topics not previously covered at GCSE level that they are unfamiliar with, such as food resources. For some, this makes choosing an exam board difficult, since there are fewer differences between the specifications.

It also means that there is a greater amount of content to fit into the same timescale. Some schools are responding to this by teaching key stage 4 content within key stage 3, and there are clear advantages to introducing the 3-year GCSE programme. However, some year 9 students will not be opting for geography in year 10, and those that are may forget the content that they covered once they reach the terminal exams.

The new core content also includes a focus on the UK, through both overview and detailed case studies. This means that students will need to develop a greater understanding of their home country, including landscapes, environmental challenges and the changing economy.

Skills and solutions

The sample assessment material that has been approved by Ofqual (document A / document B) has an emphasis on extended writing and skills, which incorporates aspects of English and maths within geography assessments. Assessment Objective 3, which tests the application of knowledge and understanding to analyse and evaluate, has a high weighting at 35%.

Many will welcome the emphasis placed on high order thinking skills over factual recall. However, literacy levels will need to be improved in some instances to ensure that candidates are not disadvantaged through poor standards of English. Assessment Objective 4, which tests skills and techniques, has a weighting of 25%. Aspects of mathematics that now appear include statistical analysis, extrapolation and the calculation of modal data.

Perhaps the most controversial change has been to fieldwork in geography. Students will be required to undertake two pieces of fieldwork in contrasting locations. This fieldwork will be assessed using a terminal exam, rather than coursework or controlled assessment. This change could present logistical challenges, since teachers will need to either carry out two days of fieldwork or fit two contrasting locations into the one day. It will also mean that performance is more difficult to predict as student attainment is focused solely on exam performance.

Making the transition

With all of these changes taking place in such a short space of time, then, how should teachers respond? Here are some hints and tips on making the transition:

• Scaffold lessons to ensure that support is provided alongside higher order thinking. Allow for different starting points through structured tasks using Bloom’s taxonomy. Focus on key terminology through ongoing revision and testing.

• Familiarise yourself with the Ofqual guidance on the new grading system.

• Set meaningful homework to cover the content in a shorter space of time. Flipped learning techniques can expose students to new content prior to lessons. A quick and easy-to-mark method of assessing independent study is the use of free web tools like Edmodo and Kahoot.

• The new content may be very unfamiliar and there’s nothing wrong with relying on textbook pages during this time of transition. Once the new topics are embedded and you are confident with the content, add to lessons over time.

• Combine literacy with the geographical content through setting literacy-focused lessons. Use some time to teach students to peer assess and they will improve their literacy skills and reduce your marking load.

• If taking students out of lessons is difficult in your school, combine the contrasting fieldwork into one fieldwork day. Choose contrasting environments that are located nearby and split the group so that one half spends the morning in one location and the other half in another, and then swap at lunchtime.

Helen Young has 20 years of teaching experience. She currently works at The Friary School in Lichfield and owns the website geographygeek.co.uk. She also is among the co-authors of GCSE Geography for AQA and A/AS level Geography for AQA, both published by Cambridge University Press

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