Research Impact


Conceptualising school geography: curriculum change and teachers' work

Conceptualising geography

12 December 2014


Research on the structure, content and significance of geography education was implemented in the UK through the £4m Action Plan for Geography 2006-11 and benefited more than two-thirds of English secondary schools.

Professor David Lambert (UCL Institute of Education) studies how the geography curriculum is constructed and communicated, and the role teachers play in its interpretation and implementation. Since the 1990s Professor Lambert has adapted the principles of curriculum planning to the national curriculum era and examined the relationship between the discipline of 'geography' and the idea of 'education', frequently in collaboration with John Morgan, then also at the UCL IOE.

Professor Lambert developed the conceptual device of 'curriculum making' which acknowledges the importance of teacher engagement with subject knowledge, rather than mere content delivery. He emphasises the relationship between the school subject and the discipline of geography, where the latter is a dynamic, creative resource, not merely a source of content, and argues that the national curriculum should not be a template but a framework in which teachers have the responsibility to make the curriculum.

Professor Lambert provided the intellectual leadership to restore geography's place in the school curriculum, through the reconceptualisaton of its content and purpose. His research persuaded government and others of geography's position in the post-14 curriculum, and contributed to the subject's increasing popularity at Key Stages 4 and 5.

As a member of the Rose Review (2009), Professor Lambert shaped its recommendations for the primary curriculum, including the recognition of geography as a subject by name, replacing 'Human, social and environmental understanding' as an area of learning. He also authored the Geography Association Manifesto (A Different View) in 2009, which influenced both subject guidance and government-funded continuing professional development (CPD) following the revised KS3 curriculum of 2008. For example, the Geography Association led the national geography CPD provision, reaching more than 1,000 secondary schools.

In 2012, the Department for Education asked Professor Lambert to advise on GCSE reform. The following year, new GCSE national criteria were published which make explicit reference to Professor Lambert's phrase, 'thinking like a geographer'. His support for geography's place in the post-14 curriculum culminated in the English Baccalaureate, which was introduced as a performance measure in 2010.

The best geography seen was usually in schools which were participating in the professional development programme offered through the Action Plan for Geography - Ofsted 2011 report

Professor Lambert played a key role in shaping the geography programmes of study in the 2014 curriculum reform.  He began working with the Coalition Government's curriculum plans shortly after the 2010 election and served on the geography expert panel. The Geography Association's 2012 consultative national curriculum proposals were largely derived from Lambert's research and proved extremely influential on the revised national curriculum.

The £3.8m government-funded Action Plan for Geography or APG (2006-11) raised the profile of geography in more than two-thirds of English secondary schools and established a national network of primary-teacher 'Geography Champions'. Negotiated and led by Professor Lambert and Rita Gardner of the Royal Geographical Society, the APG trained and supported 5,000 teachers and benefited about 2.5m secondary students. Through the APG, Professor Lambert and Morgan's research directly influenced the establishment of 'curriculum making' principles and the accrediting of good practice through the 'Geography Quality Marks' (GQM), now held by more than 600 schools. Over 370 schools gained the Primary GQM in 2006-2013 alone, benefiting some 100,000 5-11 year olds. Through the Secondary GQM scheme, 35 schools became 'Centres of Excellence'. GQMs are now the cornerstone of the Geography Association's expanding commercially-based professional development activity.