Clare Brooks established Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo) with Graham Butt in 2007, and then chaired GEReCo from 2019 until 2021, leading GEReCo to merge with the UK IGU-CGE (IGU-CGE is the Commission on Geographical Education of the International Geographical Union). Steve Puttick took on the chair of GEReCo in 2021. This blog is a conversation between Clare and Steve, looking back at the beginnings of GEReCo and some of the contributions it has made, then its merger with UK IGU-CGE, and reflections on possible future directions for the collective.
SP: You’ve been part of GEReCo since the very beginning (in 2007) – How would you describe the original impetus that drove you all to set it up?
CB: I vividly remember attending a presentation that Graham did at an IGU-CGE conference in Brisbane (it must have been 2005? 2006?), where he drew upon a range of criticisms of education research generally, and posed some important questions about the quality of education research in geography. I was really taken with his observations, and after his presentation we discussed the “state” of geography education research. About six months after, I was hosting the Geography Teacher Educators conference in London, and suggested to Graham that as many colleagues would be heading to London anyway, why not set up a meeting prior to the Conference to discuss taking a strategic lead on geography education research? That’s what we did. Everyone we invited came, and that was the birth of GEReCo.
I think at the time we had all sorts of ideas: joint research bids, publications, etc; Graham was particularly successful with organising us to write some edited books, and to use these contributions as a basis for some seminar contributions at American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meeting which really put us onto the map in the international scene.
SP: That’s really interesting context – and to what extent do you think it has achieved those aims?
CB: I think that GEReCo has been really successful at raising the profile of geography education research, particularly internationally. I think the ambition to be more strategic in developing a research agenda was much more challenging. We found ourselves in the difficult position of wanting to support individual research projects and ideas, without being too prescriptive as to what research should be done and what shouldn’t.
In retrospect, I think a major benefit was the opportunity and space for colleagues to talk about the field and what research was taking place across geography education. This certainly helped us to link up and offer support to many other colleagues. In the early days, we started a journal called GeogEd which published papers-in-progress along with their reviews and I think that was a nice idea to support early career researchers to understand the process of writing a paper and getting it published.
SP: Those ideas about linking up and supporting seem really important to these ideas about what GEReCo is, and in Graham Butt’s recent book – Geography Education Research in the UK: Retrospect and Prospect – he mentions the (at that time) probable merger with IGU-CGE. What kinds of things have you been involved with through IGU-CGE? And how do you see this new merged collective adding to what both were already doing?
CB: So the International Geographical Union (IGU), and particularly the Commission for Geography Education (CGE) have a long standing influence on the field and a strong connection with the Institute of Education (IOE). When I first joined the IOE as an academic, I remember Ashley Kent suggesting I attend their conferences both in London and abroad. I started to attend the British Sub-Committee regularly, and eventually took on the role of Honorary Secretary of the IGU-CGE Executive Group, and then chair of both the (renamed) UK Committee and the IGU CGE Executive itself. During that involvement I became aware of a number of things: the research we were discussing in the UK community covered a range of themes and issues which were also of considerable international interest, and that there was so much valuable work going on in the international community, and I think the Brits can sometimes be a bit inward looking.
I have benefited so much from the international conferences I attended with the IGU, and the wonderful friends and colleagues I made from that group. In the UK Committee we wanted to work in two ways: to ensure that UK work in geography education was represented in international discussions, and also to ensure that the UK community were aware of what was going on elsewhere. I’m really pleased that the new GEReCo has agreed to continue with some of the ways that the UK IGU-CGE Committee sought to do that – for example, through the annual research seminar, and the London conference. I am also really delighted at the way the IGU-CGE are developing ways of reaching out to wider groups: through their newsletter, new website and podcasts, and the Book Series we have with Springer (which I edit with Di Wilmot).
I think the two organisations have very similar values and interests – and that was the primary motivation for bringing them together. Whilst GEReCo were strongly research-focussed, and the IGU is strong internationally-focussed, neither of those things precludes the other – and in fact they are strengthened by coming together. As a member of GEReCo I wanted us to look out as much as we looked in, and as Chair of the IGU-CGE I wanted us to develop and promote geography education research in a strategic way. So for me, the merger was a no-brainer.
I really hope it will mean that many others will have access to the international conferences and professional networks that I have enjoyed, the opportunities to stop and think strategically about research in our field and where it is heading and what it needs, and that we can widen the scope of who gets involved in geography education research and can offer the support they need to produce some really high-quality transformative findings.
SP: These sound like brilliant things! What kinds of contributions do you particularly hope to see GEReCo making to the field of geography education research in the future?
CB: I was going to ask you the same thing!
I think there is a huge amount of potential with the new GEReCo. I am particularly excited at how the group has opened up to geographers interested in education, and researchers who are located in schools. The commitment and interest in geography education is widespread and I am so pleased the GEReCo is aiming to include that wide definition.
But I also feel like one of the elders (hasbeens!) now, and I am more excited about your vision Steve: what do you see GEReCo contributing in the future?
SP: I’ve been enjoying asking you the questions! It’s really interesting to think back over the period of time you’ve described – thank you so much for sharing these insights. There have been many changes over that time, and it’s really encouraging to look back at the contribution that GEReCo has made to geography education research, including some of the really significant publications that have come out through GEReCo and the links and support that have helped to sustain and grow the field.
I’m really excited about the opportunity to contribute to GEReCo / UK IGU-CGE in a way that continues to deepen the links between colleagues working across geography education research, including teacher educators based in a wide range of settings and academic geographers. I think we’ve got a brilliant annual seminar coming up this summer that will bring together ‘physical’ and ‘human’ geographers to explore the idea of progress (further details to be announced soon – watch this space!), which I hope will also lead onto some really interesting collaborations.
I think your comments earlier about the ‘inward looking’ tendencies of Brits in geography education touches on a really important point which has been particularly exposed by recent work in the discipline asking why is my geography curriculum so white? There is obviously a lot of work to do, but there are some great collaborations going on, some hard questions being asked, and some hints of substantive institutional changes, and I hope GEReCo can play a part in expanding the representation, knowledges and voices that make up geography education. I would love to see GEReCo contributing to an increasingly vibrant and critically-engaged geography education research landscape that supports geography education researchers, nurtures great international collaborations, and facilitates lively and generative interactions across the geographies of education, the wider discipline, and the school subject.
CB: That sounds great Steve! Sign me up!
 Butt’s guest editorial in IRGEE with a focus on Perspectives on research in geography education, published in 2010, touches on some of these issues https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10382046.2010.482179
 Ashley Kent was Professor of Geography Education at the Institute of Education. For an example of Ashley’s work including a focus on the development of geography education at the IoE, see: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2167/irg197.0