Curriculum Geography sustainable development

More on climate change – GCSE

Gated path

Update 6 July 2013 and 9 July 2013

“Michael Gove abandons plans to drop climate change from curriculum

Climate change will stay on geography syllabus after lobbying from energy secretary Ed Davey”
Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 5 July 2013

It seems that the final document has included a specific reference* to climate change. Some might regard this as a success for lobbying. However, this article confirms the cynical opportunism of party politics. It concludes:

“There has been a changing mood in parts of the Conservative party over climate change, with important figures such as Peter Lilley and Lord Lawson challenging its whole premise and the science behind it. Some feared that Gove was putting up a resistance to Davey to pander to the right. But Gove remains a party moderniser and at one point saw the greening of the party as central to its electability.”

I don’t see this as change in ‘Gove’s plans’, it’s more like document editing.

Let’s just stick with professional curriculum decision-making, shall we?

*• we have added explicit references to climate change at key stage 3 in the geography curriculum. This is in addition to the content that was already present in both science and geography which will give pupils a rigorous, fact-based understanding of the science underpinning climate change….pdf

It’s sad, but it is still being reported that the original draft “failed to mention or allow study of the effects of climate change”. Allow? These people do not understand the National Curriculum or school curriculum making.

In addition to the draft national curriculum we now have the draft GCSE subject criteria or, more fully, Geography GCSE subject content and assessment [pdf]. This is not the syllabus as often reported but “GCSE subject criteria set out the knowledge, understanding, skills and assessment objectives common to all GCSE specifications in a given subject.” It is the framework (checks and balance) for the awarding organisations which will continue to operate in a competitive marketplace.

From the Geography “subject aims”, the course will illuminate “the impact of change and of complex people-environment interactions…”

One of eight paragraphs on the “scope of study” reads

“Changing weather and climate – The causes, consequences of and responses to extreme weather conditions and natural weather hazards, together with their changing distribution in time and space. The spatial and temporal characteristics, evidence for and causes of climatic change over the past two million years to the present day.”

Yet, somehow, this allows Katherine Portilla, in a Guardian blogpost, to say

On 11 June, England’s education secretary Michael Gove revealed the draft new syllabus for the geography GCSE exam: it mentions climate change once.

Just how many times should one topic be mentioned?

I can’t help feel that one can protest too much.

The piece also recycles “the news in March that the government plans to drop references to sustainability and climate change from the curriculum for under 14’s” I have dealt with this matter already.

Katherine Portilla quotes extensively from Anna Birney @AnnasQuestions at Forum for the Future and, formerly, WWF-UK. I have worked with Anna and she has been a formidable force in helping steer the previous government on their course through sustainability in schools. During that time, and since, I have counselled that insistence on intervention (ie making schools do it) risks other competing demands being added to the pressure on schools and, possibly, to be more successful. Some of these external pressures are counter to sustainability.

So, the non-interventionist approach, or reduced interference, is difficult for some to comprehend. I don’t play for the government and I don’t trust the global marketisation of education either. However, I do have faith in the continued interests of children and the professionalism of teachers. It’s not an unqualified faith, as they are both buffeted by several forces of public influence, yet I believe it is well-founded. It doesn’t have to be a roll-back, as Anne fears, as there is cause for confidence that sustainability will remain a key part of the school curriculum.

We do not need to make our own barriers to the path ahead.

I will be sharing these thoughts in my workshop called ‘Linking Geography and Sustainability’ at the National Sustainable Schools Conference on 10 July 2013 in London. SEEd website

I am not writing in any official capacity as chair of the Geographical Association’s Sustainability and Citizenship Special Interest Group. I have  a special interest, not a sole interest in sustainability. Pupils, teachers and the wider context come first. Here is the GA page on the DfE Consultation on GCSE criteria


Is sustainability a key part of education?
Downplaying the discussion of climate change and sustainability in education may be a mistake

Recommended reading

Smith, Maggie (2013) ‘How does education for sustainable development relate to geography education?’ in Lambert, David and Jones, Mark (eds) (2013) Debates in Geography Education, London: Routledge

A whole list of education for sustainability documentation is hosted on the Geographical Association NING here >

By Angus Willson

The editor of this site and author of this blogpost.

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