GTIP Think Piece - Every Child Matters, Geography Matters

In this Think Piece, Arthur Kelly (Senior Lecturer in Education at Liverpool Hope University) aims to encourage reflection on the impact of the Every Child Matters Policy Agenda on teachers of geography at all levels. It provides an overview of the policy and a critical discussion of the ECM agenda. This Think Piece is intended as a series of reflections upon what the processes and content of an 'Every Child Matters Learner Centred Geography' could look like. It is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive – it is important for the reader to consider points of agreement and disagreement with these reflections and what they perceive as gaps.

Every Child Matters

Schools are going through a period of rapid change at all levels as they grapple with new legislation and changes to the structures that govern education, with the introduction of the Key Stage 3 Strategy and the Primary Review being particular examples. These changes present both a challenge and an opportunity to geography educators. Rawling (2001) documents the impact of national policy on geography in schools in the latter part of the twentieth century, but without doubt the key policy driver for change currently is the Every Child Matters Agenda (see e.g. DfES 2003, DfES 2004) the stated aim of which is that every child has the support they need to:

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being
  • Given that a UNICEF report (2007) on the wellbeing of children and adolescents in twenty one OECD countries placed the UK at the bottom of the rankings overall (though see Ansell, Barker and Smith (2007) who find limitations in the report), this could be seen to be overdue. Every Child Matters, aimed at children and young people from birth to nineteen, is holistic in approach, in that it looks at the whole child and the integration of children's services. ECM is having deep, geologic impacts on the education system, for example in terms of curriculum, the role of the teacher and inter-agency collaboration.

    These factors are shaping children's services, the schools and teachers of the future. Every Child Matters encourages reflection upon the broader purpose of schooling and education, placing the child/young person at the centre of this process, not the curriculum or geography. This provides us with a challenge as educators because we have to be very secure in our understanding of how geographical knowledge, skills and understanding help learners to progress towards the proposed outcomes.

    'While enjoyment and achievement should be at the heart of the subject, it (geography) also has a role to play in developing pupils' understanding of staying safe in a variety of outdoor environments, raising their awareness of global issues and interdependence, as well as developing pupils' understanding of the importance of the community and helping to promote their economic well-being.' OFSTED (2008) p15

    Geography is in a strong position to support progress towards all five outcomes but the processes of teaching and learning and appropriate content need to be considered.

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    Pedagogy Matters

    The aim here is to suggest that the processes of geographical teaching and learning are central to the fulfilment of ECM outcomes – an understanding of the enquiry process and underlying pedagogy is crucial (see e.g. Scoffham, (Ed.) 2004, Balderstone, (Ed.) 2006). It is argued here that we must ensure that our pedagogy is appropriate to the outcomes. The enquiry process, which is based upon a constructivist model of teaching (Roberts, 2007), should be the starting point of geographical learning and this is reflected in the National Curriculum for geography at different key stages (See e.g. QCA/DfEE 1999 for KS1/2, DCSF for KS3 geography).

    The basis of this enquiry process is that pupils should be supported in asking geographical questions, thus developing geographical thinking. The power and relevance of geographical questions is that;

    'All geographical knowledge has been generated by someone, who at some time… has been puzzled and has wanted to know and understand more.' (Roberts 2003, p39)

    A wealth of exemplification material is available through the Geographical Association which is based on a process led, enquiry approach to teaching and learning which will harness pupil voice and support personalisation, both key aspects of ECM policy. For example, the Valuing Places project clearly demonstrates that when geography and geographical thinking are given centre stage and are well resourced it can enrich pupil experiences and the school curriculum at primary and secondary levels (Swift, D. 2005a and Swift, D. 2005b). This project provides examples of how pupil voice can be used to steer enquiries thus allowing content to be personalised and localised thereby making learning more meaningful.

    A powerful synergy exists between the enquiry process and what Alexander (2008) terms dialogic teaching;

    'Dialogic teaching harnesses the power of talk to engage children, stimulate and extend their thinking, and advance their learning and understanding'. (Alexander, 2008 p. 37)

    Alexander makes a strong case based on communicative, social, cultural, neuro-scientific, psychological and political as well as pedagogical factors. This approach involves reshaping classroom interactions from monologue to dialogue, including teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil interaction, teacher-pupil monitoring, use of questioning and responses/feedback to these questions and essentially pupil talk.

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    Content Matters

    Any discussion of curriculum content should take place within the context of the perceived values, aims and purposes of that curriculum, and as it is stated that;

    '…education must enable us to respond positively to the opportunities and challenges of the rapidly changing world in which we live…'

    and that;

    'Education should reflect the enduring values that contribute to personal development and equality of opportunity for all, a healthy and just democracy, a productive economy, and sustainable development.'

    (QCA, 2008)

    then content cannot be static. As the QCA (2008) point out, while the purposes of the National Curriculum do not change over time,

    '...the curriculum itself cannot remain static. It must be responsive to changes in society and the economy, and changes in the nature of schooling itself. Teachers, individually and collectively, have to reappraise their teaching in response to the changing needs of their pupils and the impact of economic, social and cultural change. Education only flourishes if it successfully adapts to the demands and needs of the time.'

    (QCA, 2008)

    Content may not be as important as geographical skills and concepts. The pedagogical processes outlined enables the derivation of content (knowledge, understanding and skills) that form the DNA of a learner-centred geography. To meet ECM outcomes the content of the geography curriculum should be modified and reconstructed to develop thinking about the world which we live in based around Key Concepts. These have been identified by the GA and geography is in a clear position to take a whole school lead in supporting thinking relating to Global Citizenship and Education for Sustainable Development.

    An ECM geography curriculum should reflect the three R's of 21st Century learning:

  • It should be about the Real world
  • Learners should be able to Relate to it
  • It should be Relevant to the lives of the learners
  • As Martin (2006) notes;
  • 'There is… a real need to re-connect people with the subject in ways that recognise what their starting points might be… Everyday geography means… connecting the knowledge that teachers and pupils bring with them from their daily experiences to the knowledge and ways of understanding that geographers have developed over the years' (Martin, 2006, p. 5)

    The KS3 curriculum has already undergone a remodeling in line with the development of key concepts and processes and indications are that the primary curriculum may take a more thematic approach (See DCSF 2008) where learning of geographic skills and concepts take centre stage rather than the geographical content. This places the emphasis on developing thinking and skill bases rather than 'delivering' a curriculum.

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    Challenging ECM

    Mayall (2006) notes that it is necessary to identify and critically evaluate the values and assumptions underpinning recent policies relating to children and young people in England, claiming that New Labour's interest in children's futures has the goal of producing economically active, socially responsible adults and that;

    'Childhood… is devalued. These policies are increasing government control over children and over childhood itself' (Mayall, 2006, p.10)

    They note that in comparison to other Northern European countries a particular cluster of ideas about children and childhood relating to child protection, provision and participation drive policy, while observing that attempts at participation may be tokenistic. Roberts (2003) points out that geographical questions are driven by curiosity and a 'need to know' – yet do we listen to what pupils feel they need/want to know or is the system driven by what policy makers feel children need to/should know? Further it is suggested that children are a socially segregated minority group with low social status, the child as victim or threat dominating public discourse. Behind the policies lie a particular construction of children and childhood, where adults know best and children lack competence.

    As well as examining the underpinnings of the policy, it is also necessary to identify gaps. Catling (2007) points out the five outcomes as stated under-represent and under-value the environment, and more particularly, children's environmental well-being, which he considers a vital sixth outcome. Following Catling it is possible to argue that a lack of focus on environmental well-being misses out on two important factors;

    1. The impact of environmental/geographic experience on personal, social, economic development and achievement.
    2. The personal, national and global need for sustainable lifestyles and a sustainable world.

    The framework for sustainable schools development (DfES 2006) goes some way to addressing these issues and it is clear that geography can lead in developing understandings of sustainability. Sustainable development involves thinking about the future, something that Hicks considers (2002) is a missing dimension in education;

    'An essential element of responsible citizenship has to be the ability to consider different scenarios for the future, whether personal local or global, which will lead to more just and sustainable living.' (Hicks, 2002, p. 11)

    Geographical thinking about sustainable futures can bring an added dimension to Every Child Matters, one where every child's future matters, and not just in economic terms. One should question whether a main aim of child policy and education should be preparation for the workforce. McNeish and Gill (2006) also point out the potential implications of policies which appear to place greater worth on children as future adult citizens than their status as children now, again questioning how valued and included they really are.

    It is possible to identify tensions within and between outcomes and question which is considered most important. As Robinson and Fielding (2007) observe;

    'The Every Child Matters ideal of equipping learners for life in its broadest sense appears to be at odds with the current emphasis … on target setting and academic achievement in a narrow range of subjects.' (Robinson and Fielding, 2007, p. 3)

    This has particular resonance at the primary phase but may also have relevance to studies where achievement in exams is sacrificed at the expense of enjoyment of the subject and other outcomes are marginalised.

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    PGCE Workshop Ideas

    The following ideas for PGCE workshops encourage students to reflect on the ECM agenda in relation to the teaching of geography.

    Activity 1: ECM outcomes and geography

    This activity, which includes a table to complete, asks students to reflect on the different outcomes of ECM, to consider their relevance to teachers of geography and to rank them in terms of relevance.
    Download: PDF Word

    Activity 2: Potential impacts on the education system implied by ECM

    This activity consists of questions for students to discuss to help them reflect on the relationship between ECM and geography in the curriculum, the QTS standards and its implications for the wider workforce.
    Download: PDF Word

    Activity 3: ECM learning outcomes: the potential contribution of geographical education

    This activity, which includes a table to complete, asks student to relate learning outcomes in geography (knowledge, understanding and skills) to ECM outcomes.
    Download: PDF Word

    Activity 4: The contribution of geographical education to the five outcomes of ECM

    This activity, which includes five tables to complete, is designed to encourage students to reflect upon geographical education's contribution to each of the five outcomes in more detail. It is important that the students do not feel they have to 'tick all the boxes' with this activity but are able to identify where geography can make a significant contribution. It is also useful to consider the relationship between content and process in achieving these more specific outcomes.
    Download: PDF Word

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    The implications and effects of Every Child Matters are having a tectonic impact on the education system currently and for the foreseeable future. As outlined above geography as a subject is in a very strong position to facilitate progress towards the five outcomes. As geographers we must be clear how the subject and pedagogy contribute to this emerging landscape at the same time as highlighting how geography can also provide extra dimensions (e.g. environmental, futures thinking) to the defined outcomes. We must also communicate the power and relevance of geography to a wider audience, for example non specialists or those with narrower goals. Geography matters because Every Child Matters and because Every Child Matters, geography matters.

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    References / Further Reading

    Alexander, R. (2008) Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking classroom talk, York: Dialogos.

    Ansell, N., Barker, J. & Smith, F. (2007) 'UNICEF 'Child Poverty in Perspective' Report: A View from the UK', Children's Geographies, 5, 3, pp. 325-330.

    Balderstone, D. (Ed) (2006) Secondary Geography Handbook, Sheffield: The Geographical Association.

    Catling, S. (2007) 'ECM 6=Environmental well-being?', Primary Geographer, 63 pp. 6-8.

    Cheminais, R. (2006) Every Child Matters: A Practical Guide for Teachers, London: David Fulton Publishers.

    DfES (2003) Every Child Matters: Summary, London: Department for Education and Skills.

    DfES (2004) Every Child Matters: Change for Children in Schools, London: Department for Education and Skills.

    DfES (2005) Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children's Workforce, London: Department for Education and Skills.

    DCSF (2008) The Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum: Interim Report, London: Department for Children, Schools and Families.

    Hicks, D. (2002) Lessons for the Future: The missing dimension in education, Oxford: Trafford Publishing.

    Martin, F. (2006) 'Everyday Geography', Primary Geographer, 61, pp. 4-7.

    Mayall, B. (2006) 'Values and assumptions underpinning policy for children and young people in England', Children's Geographies, 4, 1, pp. 9-17.

    McNeish, D. & Gill, T. (2006) 'UK Policy on Children: Key themes and implications', Children's Geographies, 4, 1, pp. 1-7.

    OFSTED (2008) Geography in schools: changing practice, London: OFSTED

    QCA (2008) The National Curriculum available at (Accessed December 2008)

    Rawling, E. (2001) Changing the Subject: The impact of national policy on school geography 1980-2000, Sheffield: Geographical Association.

    Roberts, M. (2003) Learning Through Enquiry: Making sense of Geography in the Key Stage 3 Classroom, Sheffield: Geographical Association.

    Robinson, C. & Fielding, M. (2007) 'Children and their Primary Schools: Pupil Voices', Primary Review Research Briefing 5/3.

    Scoffham, S. (Ed) (2004) Primary Geography Handbook, Sheffield: Geographical Association.

    Swift, D. (2005a) 'Valuing Places: Thinking Geographically', Primary Geographer, 58, pp 4-7.

    Swift, D. (2005b) 'Why Valuing Places is no fairy tale', Teaching Geography, 30, 1, pp. 8-11.

    TDA (2007) Professional Standards for Teachers, London: TDA.

    UNICEF (2007) Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries, Florence: UNICEF.

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    Every Child Matters - Official Every Child Matters website, updated regularly.

    The Global Dimension - Information and teaching ideas in relation to global citizenship.

    Growing Schools - About using the 'outdoor classroom'.

    Teachernet - Has information about sustainable schools.

    Department for Transport - Has information about sustainable school travel.

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    Page updated 20.08.09

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