Posted on 8th July 2024

A Cross-School Study Unveils the Impact of Geography Mastery on KS3 Geography Teachers

12:42 PM, 8th July 2024
A Cross-School Study Unveils the Impact of Geography Mastery on KS3 Geography Teachers

A recent study conducted by Ruth Kerr, Geography Teacher and Head of KS3 Geography at Ark Pioneer Academy in Barnet, sheds light on the effects of Geography Mastery on both specialist and non-specialist geography teachers at KS3.

Geography Mastery is a centralised curriculum created by geography experts at Ark Curriculum Plus in collaboration with schools and teachers, which integrates adaptable teaching and fieldwork resources, school support, CPD, and formative and standardised assessment.

This blog summarises and responds to the key findings of the study – in particular, the impact on teacher workload and subject knowledge development.

The significance of specialisation

Before we dive into Kerr’s research, it’s worth noting that a specialist geography teacher is one with a post-A-Level geography qualification. These trained geographers specialise in either physical or human geography, meaning that even those who are specialists are required to teach geographical content that was not the focus of their degree, for example a human geographer teaching glacial processes. KS3 geography is frequently taught by non-specialist geography teachers, ranging from humanities specialists (often Historians) to teachers with unrelated degrees (anything from Design to P.E.).

Unsurprisingly, whether a teacher is a geography specialist or not has significant implications for subject knowledge, instructional strategies, and overall effectiveness in the geography classroom. And while the high proportion of non-specialists teaching KS3 is problematic across many subjects, it is of special concern in geography, where it is common for more than 30% of classes to be taught by non-specialists.

Below are the key findings of Kerr’s research into the impact of the centralised Geography Mastery programme, which relate closely to some of these challenges.

Key findings:

1. Reduced time spent planning and creating resources

    The study found that a centralised curriculum effectively reduces workload for both specialist and non-specialist teachers.

    “Dramatically reduces workload as you do not have to plan every lesson,” – Teacher

    “Base resources cut lesson planning time,” – Teacher

    Most of Kerr’s respondents said that their workload has reduced as a result of Geography Mastery because they no longer have to plan every aspect of the lesson, and the resources are ‘ready to teach’. A few said that while their total workload has not reduced, the time they spend preparing is now focussed on adaptation for the needs of their unique educational setting.

    By providing a structured framework and resourced curriculum, the Geography Mastery programme frees teachers up to focus on the content they are teaching, and crucially how they will teach it to their specific students.

    Given the substantial workload associated with planning over twenty lessons per week, it is perhaps unsurprising that we frequently see teacher workload going down and morale improving when a lot of the administrative tasks – such as creating slides, sourcing up-to-date case studies, and preparing exemplars – are removed from a teacher’s to-do-list. 

    2. Improved subject knowledge and classroom delivery

    The study found that Geography Mastery improves subject knowledge and classroom delivery, with 100% of less experienced teachers saying that it supports their exposition.

    While specialist teachers were already well-versed in the subject matter, Geography Mastery provided them with a consistent platform to enhance and refine their teaching approach. The findings suggest that the centralisation of the curriculum improved specialists' ability to deliver complex geographical ideas with precision and clarity.

    For non-specialist teachers, the study revealed a notable positive impact as they endeavoured to teach a subject outside their area of expertise. The centralised curriculum served as a support system, improving non-specialists’ subject knowledge and exposition. By providing clear guidelines, high-quality resources, adaptation tips and misconception signposts, the curriculum enabled non-specialists to develop better classroom delivery and engage students effectively.

    “Exposition enhancers were a useful tool in helping me understand how my own knowledge fitted into what the students were expected to know,” – Teacher

    Because teachers were supported to teach topics they were less familiar and confident with, the study also found that Geography Mastery broadened the curriculum the students received. This will help to ensure that schools meet national curriculum requirements regardless of teachers’ subject expertise.

    3.  The importance of a supportive partner

      Finally, all teachers included in the study felt supported by the central curriculum. The study revealed that teachers using Geography Mastery felt real benefit from their close working relationships with the curriculum developers at Ark Curriculum Plus. Most participants valued the clear communication and personal relationships, allowing teachers the opportunity to ask questions or ask for clarification.

      “Email communication is rapid and detailed. The team are supportive and happy to jump on calls or offer advice and listen to feedback,” – Teacher

      When partnering with Ark Curriculum Plus, teachers have genuine agency in shaping ongoing unit iteration. There are clear examples where teacher feedback and pedagogical expertise has been actioned within the curriculum, so they know their input is integral to programme development. This supports long-term buy-in and reduces the gap between designer and classroom.

      Implications for geography education

      The study underscores the significant benefits of a centralised curriculum not only in supporting specialist teachers but also empowering non-specialists to teach geography effectively at KS3.

      The centralised framework can bridge the knowledge and pedagogy gap for non-specialists, raising the quality and consistency of teaching and helping to ensure that all students benefit from an excellent KS3 geography education. Additionally, the close collaboration between teachers and Ark Curriculum Plus highlights the importance of continuous feedback and iteration in developing effective educational resources.