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75% of students now take GCSE Geography at Ark Pioneer Academy

75% of students now take GCSE Geography at Ark Pioneer Academy

Ark Pioneer Academy in High Barnet, North London, is a relatively new school, established five years ago. The school has a mixed demographic and provides more free school meals than the national average (36%).

They have been using Geography Mastery at Key Stage 3 (KS3) since the school opened to support their high academic and pupil behaviour goals, foster a nurturing environment, and attract and retain expert teachers.

We spoke to Dylan Robinson, Head of Geography; Ruth Kerr, Geography Teacher, second-year ECT, and Head of KS3 Geography; and Chloe Harris, Geography Teacher, about their experiences. 

75% of students choose geography at GCSE

“135 out of 180 students took geography at GCSE, nearly the entire year group! This is a massive success for Geography Mastery at Ark Pioneer,” says Ruth.

But what is it about geography that is captivating learners? “The Geography Mastery curriculum is challenging but very interesting at the same time, making it a popular choice among pupils,” Ruth reveals. “How Geography Mastery is structured and how Ark Pioneer delivers it all contribute to the unreal take-up. I've not heard of another school with 135 geographers in Year 10."  

Consistency supports teachers and learners

"The programme has enhanced the consistency of provision in our department,” Dylan tells us. “Geography Mastery lessons are clearer in structure and better sequenced regarding concepts, skills and knowledge. I feel more prepared, and the quality of teaching and learning is generally better."

Ruth agrees. She sees the same key core knowledge implemented across all classrooms for all lessons. The consistency that the programme brings doesn’t just benefit the pupils, but also Ruth as a second-year ECT. "As a new ECT, you've got so much to think about, and using Geography Mastery does reduce the cognitive load. How the knowledge is sequenced and presented and how it builds upon prior knowledge makes it so much easier to teach." 

Ruth goes on to explain how teaching geographical skills in a classroom isn’t easy. “I taught 4 and 6-figure grid references to a year 7 class with super high SEND need.” But having the same style of resources in a similar format helps. With Geography Mastery, each lesson follows the same sequence of learning phases, and each lesson booklet page and slide deck are laid out in a similar way. “This sort of familiarity is quite helpful when you've got a student that finds change extremely challenging".

Resources save teachers’ time

Not having to create resources frees up time for higher value activities, such as co-planning. “As a department, we spend more time thinking about how to teach Geography Mastery lessons than what to teach," says Dylan. 

When she started teaching, “it would take me 3-5 hours to plan an hour-long lesson,” Chloe reveals. “Now that we have Geography Mastery in place, I can see how much quicker planning can be when resources provided are highly structured and consistent.”

“For our Early Career Teachers, the resources are an outstanding guide,” explains Dylan. “The quality is much better than anything I've experienced at Key Stage 3. I like the skills lessons – Digimap in particular.” Geography Mastery uses an online mapping platform called Digimap for Schools, which uses Ordnance Survey maps and Google Earth imagery, and supports schools to meet the National Curriculum GIS requirements.

"It provides a superb base for reducing teacher workload and improving teacher subject knowledge," Ruth adds. 

Teachers benefit from professional development

As geography is quite a wide discipline, many teachers feel that they have some stronger and some weaker subject areas. Ruth mentions that "Using Geography Mastery as a base is excellent for developing your own subject knowledge.” She cites the topic of biomes as an area of geography that she finds challenging to teach. “I've used all the resources provided, such as core knowledge guides, Teacher Guidance booklets, video resources, suggested reading, and more."

“I’m more of a human geographer,” Chloe adds, “and some [physical] content I’ve never learnt myself. Geography Mastery really helps, especially the Teacher Guidance. It’s really helped me direct my questioning better since the resources are very thorough. It has surely helped me with the confidence needed in delivering lessons.”

But it’s not just subject knowledge that teachers are gaining. Geography Mastery also changes the way that teachers teach.

“At Ark Pioneer, pupil talk is highly encouraged,” Ruth says. “‘Turn and Talk’ tasks and ‘Check for Understanding’ tasks can be customised using Geography Mastery, which is very useful. I have learned different techniques to get everyone in the room reading aloud to us."

It’s rewarding to see the impact all this is having on students. “Because I can tell Geography Mastery lessons are more enjoyable, I enjoy teaching them more,” reveals Chloe. “The students seem more engaged, and this brings more enjoyment to the classroom.”

How can we help?

Want to find out how our subject excellence programmes can support teaching and learning in your school?

Contact our friendly partnerships team who will be happy to talk you through the programmes and help you decide on the right approach for your school.