National curriculum geography – is it a dying subject?

Magnifying glass over map
Geography should be one of the most exciting parts of the school timetable, so why do so many children find it boring? Melissa Murphy unearths ways to put geography back on the map

Could your child point out the United Kingdom on a map of the world? Do they know London is the capital of England?

Amazingly, a survey in 2006 by National Geographic Kids magazine found that one in five children aged six to 14 couldn’t locate the UK on a map and one in ten couldn’t name a single continent.

But while map reading skills are important, there is far more to geography than this. In fact, geography is one of the most relevant subjects our children can learn. Barely a day goes by when geography isn’t in the news – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, natural disasters, war and of course, climate change. As geographer Michael Palin, puts it: “Geography is all about the living, breathing essence of the world we live in. It explains the past, illuminates the present and prepares us for the future. What could be more important than that?”

Geography: a forgotten subject?

Despite such an inspiring philosophy, national curriculum geography has slipped in importance on the school timetable. Ofsted research has revealed that pupils’ achievement in geography is weaker than in most other subjects and the number of children choosing to study it at GCSE is falling.

There isn’t one clear reason for geography’s decline – instead there are a number of issues affecting schools. Many primary geography teachers feel they are not confident in the subject and have little opportunity to improve their knowledge of it. Also there is such a strong push for literacy and numeracy skills that other subjects can be pushed to one side.

Another issue is the lack of field trips, one of the most enjoyable parts of geography. Many schools are not doing as many as they should because of a lack of funds and staff resources and worries about health and safety.

School geography benefits

The good news is that tide is starting to turn for geography learning and there has recently been a huge government push to promote geography for children.

An Action Plan for Geography has been launched, providing support for geography teachers in conjunction with the Geography Association and Royal Geographical Society. Changes are also being made to structure of the geography curriculum and the subject at GCSE level is being revised. The Government is essentially trying to ensure that geography teaching in schools actually reflects what’s happening in the real world.

Inspiring your child to enjoy geography

There’s a lot parents can do to spark children’s interest in geography.

  • Go and explore the landscapes around you as a family – it doesn’t matter if you live in an urban environment or a rural one.
  • A holiday can also turn into a learning experience for children – talk about sand dunes, the coastline, weather, shells, how fossils are formed. If your child is older then they may want to keep a journal of their holidays or conduct their own experiments.
  • If you don’t already have one, buy a globe and an atlas of the world.
  • Talk to your child about the world, tell them about different countries you have visited and discuss capital cities.
  • Look at travel magazines or TV programmes about other countries. 

The next generation will soon be keen to discover more about our fascinating planet!