I do love this annual event! Not only is it always incredibly inspiring, engaging and thought-provoking, but we are also supplied with plentiful refreshments throughout the day and treated to a delicious lunch on comfy sofas overlooking the beautifully kept grounds.
This theme of this year’s conference was ‘Geographical skills and fieldwork – ensuring coverage and progression‘. We were given advance notice that this would be a practical and interactive day, which would focus upon identifying the range of geographical techniques and fieldwork methods that should be covered in an increasingly challenging way through the curriculum from EYFS to Year 6. We were also promised a number of fully documented and resourced enquiries, exemplifying best practice in skills and fieldwork progression, that we could then use in our own schools.
It was added that all delegates would leave:
- knowing the range of geographical skills and fieldwork methods that pupils should master from EYFS to Year 6.
- aware of the data collection skills to develop through fieldwork investigations.
- understanding how the use of maths in the interpretation of data, maps, aerial imagery and geographic information systems (GIS) can boost outcomes in geography.
- identifying those skills which pupils can use to effectively communicate geographical information, including graphicacy, oracy and writing at length.
- appreciating the importance of achieving proficiency in skills within the context of relevant, engaging and appropriately challenging key question-led enquiries.
Once again, the conference was delivered by David Weatherly, a School Improvement Adviser and an accomplished teacher with an international reputation for being an inspiring trainer. Whether David is working with colleagues in schools or at CPD events, he always provides practical and achievable approaches to improving the engagement and outcomes of pupils. He is also author of the award winning Primary Connected Geography scheme, published by Harper Collins and adopted by many primary schools across the UK.
After registering and helping ourselves to the first round of refreshments, David made sure that all were aware of Ofsted’s draft Education Inspection Framework (EIF) and the implications that this is likely to have on future inspections in schools. Visits are proposed to be around two days in length to give inspectors time to really see a school ‘in action’ and engage with members of staff and pupils (0.5 day to view data; 1 day to observe teaching and learning and 0.5 day for giving a summary/feedback). He outlined the four main categories (quality of education; behaviour and attitudes; personal development; leadership and management). The quality of education will very much focus upon ‘intent, implementation and impact’. David also reinforced that ‘leadership’ did not just imply the Head Teacher and SLT, but included Subject Leaders too.
David always ensures that the purpose of events like this is made clear from the onset; he displayed the objectives on the large screen and emphasised that they day should enable us to reflect on our practice and for him to provide sufficient challenge and support. In his overview of ‘the geographical and fieldwork skills of information collection, interpretation and communication’, David asked us what a skill actually was. Following some debate, he stated that they could be classified into lower case and upper case skills. The former (e.g. drawing a bar graph) are merely a tool or technique, simply a vehicle for something else, with no intrinsic value, whereas the latter, involving prediction; inference; interpretation, etc. are the outcome of the tool or technique and must be integrated in order to ensure school improvement takes place. Tools and techniques must relate to something to give them great value; contextualisation of the curriculum is vitally important. We were also given handouts showing a list of possible geographical skills and fieldwork coverage at EYFS and Key Stage 1, lower Key Stage 2 and upper Key Stage 2, which were well-received by delegates. David had noted overlap with maths and science too. He demonstrated how all of these geographical and fieldwork skills could be introduced through one unit of work and then revisited for reinforcement throughout a key stage. We identified new skills that appeared at lower Key Stage 2 and upper Key Stage 2 to illustrate progression and concluded that the greatest change occurred between EYFS and lower Key Stage 2.
David also referred to his infamous ‘table of outstanding provision’:
- Table top: what you decide to teach (real subject rigor should be apparent).
- Leg 1: understanding the value and purpose of learning geography.
- Leg 2: enabling pupils to build their subject knowledge and understanding through working as young geographers.
- Leg 3: recognising and planning for progressively more challenging subject outcomes from EYFS to Year 6.
- Leg 4: formative assessment enabling end of key stage summative judgements to be made.
He also provided a ‘word of warning’ with his school improvement hat on. When visiting the home page of a school’s website, an immediate link to learning should be visible. This section should then be sub-divided into subjects. Geography should have its own mission statement (intent), an outline of the curriculum being taught (implementation), a copy of its policy and performance indicators (the expected outcomes/impact). David highlighted the difference between problem solving and enquiry-led learning; the first involves finding out a precise answer, whereas the latter has a variety of acceptable answers most of the time, e.g. it depends on … . Other key messages that he relayed were that geography is the home of critical thinking skills, children must do ‘much less better’, e.g. spend longer doing less content, the purpose of learning should enable intellectual progression and when assessing any written work, we should mark the geography first, then look at the literacy.
We then explored geographical and fieldwork skills at EYFS and Key Stage 1. David took us through a whole unit of work entitled, ‘Where in the world is home to Denise and how does it compare with where I live?’. This concentrated on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean and compared life with that in Dulverton in Devon in the UK.
Following a break for refreshments, David then went on to discuss geographical and fieldwork skills at lower Key Stage 2. Here, we explored the unit, ‘Where is the most valuable thing in the world and who owns it?’ together. This time, the focus was on water, incorporating supply, demand, management, water transfer schemes and conservation methods.
Having being well-fed and watered, we returned to the Conference Suite to consider geographical and fieldwork skills at upper Key Stage 2, looking at a unit called ‘How and why does the quality of the environment change in and around the area where I live?’. This involved testing the hypothesis, ‘In Exeter, the quality of the environment improves with distance away from the river’ and incorporated all stages of an enquiry, e.g. observing; measuring; recording; presenting; interpreting; communicating and evaluating.
As ‘pupils’, we had lots of fun and were introduced to many new resources in the process. I now need to sit at my laptop and order a few items, e.g. ‘Around the world snap’; a wipeable globe with coloured pens; a world map rug, as well as have a longer ‘play’ with Google Earth Pro.
Whilst we enjoyed our final round of refreshments, David brought the conference to a close by reinforcing the key messages and encouraging us to think about our next steps once back at school.
A great start to the week, and lovely to be able to sit back and relax instead of presenting for once!
Many thanks for inviting me along, David. See you again soon, hopefully!