To what extent can online coaching software help trainee geography teachers to summatively assess pupils’ GCSE Geography examination answers?

Martin Sutton writes about his Highly Commended dissertation, submitted as part of his MAEd (Geography) from UCL Institute of Education.

Teaching about summative assessment with trainee teachers has long intrigued me, especially the tension between accurately assessing work and the inherent challenges that any assessment process can entail. My interest in geography assessment, coupled with my joint roles of being both a PGCE teacher educator and also a secondary school geography teacher, meant that I could draw upon both perspectives to inform my research. I have often wondered how trainee teachers are ‘taught’ to summatively assess work and how well they can transfer what they have learned into practice.

Popham (2011, p.267) used the phrase ‘assessment literacy’ to describe the understanding and ability of an educator to grapple with the theoretical and practical demands of this field. This study set out to investigate assessment literacy with both trainees and also their school mentors. The relationship between mentor and trainee is well researched (Lord, Atkinson & Mitchell, 2008; Rehman & Al-Bargi, 2014; Roberts, 2019; Healy et al. 2022). The mentoring role is clearly valued by the DfE, who have constructed non-statutory Mentor Standards (DfE, 2016) which stipulate that trainees should receive support from mentors around assessment and marking. My research addressed how this mentor-trainee interaction worked in terms of summative assessment literacy.

Lambert (2011, p.5) summarises the geography assessment landscape when he claims that “assessing progress is particularly challenging in a subject like geography which is not learned in a cumulative or linear sequence.” This is a notion to which many classroom teachers can empathise with. The interconnectedness of the subject has been widely agreed upon from Massey’s “a sense of the global” (2014, p.36) with porous boundaries, to Jackson’s “geographies of connection” (2006, p.199). It is this synoptic characteristic which makes assessing progress in the acquisition of knowledge and skills a demanding task, as the Geographical Association has for many years attempted to clarify (GA undated).

The discussion around formative assessment (for learning, rather than of learning) is a well-trodden path. Black and Wiliam’s (1998) seminal meta-analysis of assessment for learning, sparked the publication of geography specific assessment research, by Weedon and Lambert (2006). They champion the use of formative feedback in a subject specific context and point to further work that suggests that feedback should not be accompanied by a mark or grade (Butler, 1987). In line with work of their predecessors (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Bloom, 1969; Popham, 2008), Weedon and Lambert (2006) outline the advantages of peer assessment, self-assessment and encouraging the pupils to reflect on their own work (such as the use of traffic lighting their own performance, confidence or knowledge). Pupils were positioned at the heart of the assessment process, in line with later work by Weedon, co-authored with Hopkin (2006; Figure 1). However, there is relatively little literature that concentrates on summative assessment or the assessment of learning (although, see Lambert and Lines, 2000).

Dempsey et al. (2009) identified a clear need for improved assessment skills among trainee teachers and tested a web-based coaching software to address this. They found that by exposing the marker to short prompts and hints, coupled with the marks from peers, could help trainee teachers to better assess children’s work at a primary school level. Inspired by their work, my study investigated whether a similar tool could benefit UK trainee geography teachers and their school mentors.

Considering the time constraints reported by both mentors and trainees, I conducted research to evaluate the potential effectiveness of a web-based solution in this context.  

By using a collection of carefully designed coaching comments, the 15 trainee teachers were exposed to a coaching intervention in an attempt to teach them how to mark examination answers. The trainees were shown an exam answer and asked to suggest both a raw score out of 9 and also a more general level (1-3), based on a rubric written by the exam board. The software then displayed a coaching suggestion for the trainee to read, that was specifically written for the question, prompting them to look at a specific part of the rubric. These statements were written based on the feedback from a cluster of qualified teachers. The trainee then had the option to re-score the answer if they wished to.

The research focused on measuring both the self-efficacy and also the accuracy of the trainees’ marking, across a set of 7 sample GCSE examination answers. Additionally, the views of 37 qualified geography teachers, who all work in teacher teaching, was collected and analysed.

By undertaking a pre- and post-questionnaire, the trainees’ change in self-efficacy was found to have significantly improved (p<0.05). Furthermore, their ‘gain scores’ could be calculated by comparing their judgement before and after the coaching intervention. The trainees were shown to have significantly improved their marking accuracy when they were shown a coaching comment, when they were a mark or more away from the ‘correct’ score (p<=0.01). The teachers were asked for their opinion on the coaching software in comparison to their current practice and reported a strong preference for this novel pedagogy (p<0.05). Although nothing can replace to experience gained through actually becoming an examiner, it appears that this coaching intervention was valued as opening up this particular ‘black box’.

The trainees and teachers cited an increase in independent practice and time efficiency as the two main strengths of the experience. They suggested that the face-to-face element of a post task discussion should be maintained in future practice. The study suggests that online coaching software should be used within the ITT year and additionally across the wider subject community, such as the RGS or the GA, to deliver powerful geography CPD to trainees and qualified teachers.

It has become clear to me that since submitting my dissertation, that there has been a recent explosion in the use of generative Artificial Intelligence in education. It would be perfectly feasible for this technology to be coupled with the software that I have designed, so that the intervention statement given to the trainee was generated by AI, based upon their view of the work itself. This would lead to an exceptionally bespoke supportive prompt that would demand more research and thought into its use in geography education.  

Note: Please feel free to contact the author should you wish to know more about the software that he developed as part of his research.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi delta kappan, 92(1), 81-90.

Bloom, B.S. (1969). Some theoretical issues relating to educational evaluation. In Educational evaluation: New roles, new means. The 63rd yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, part 2 (Vol. 69), ed. R.W. Tyler, 26–50. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Butler, R. (1987). Task-involving and ego-involving properties of evaluation: Effects of different feedback conditions on motivational perceptions, interest, and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 474.

Dempsey, M. S., PytlikZillig, L. M., & Bruning, R. H. (2009). Helping preservice teachers learn to assess writing: Practice and feedback in a Web-based environment. Assessing writing, 14(1), 38-61.

DfE (2016). National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors. Available at: (Accessed: 05/06/2024).

Geographical Association (undated) Progression in geographical learning, Geographical Association. › students-learning-in-geography

Jackson, P. (2006). Thinking geographically. Geography, 91(3), 199-204.

Healy, G. Hammond, L., Puttick, S., and Walshe, N. (eds) (2022) Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge

Lambert, D. (2011). The Geography National Curriculum: GA curriculum proposals and rationale. Geographical Association. Available at:  (Accessed: 05/06/2024).

Lambert, D. and Lines, D. (2000) Understanding Assessment: purposes, perceptions, practice. Abingdon: Routledge

Lord, P., Atkinson, M. and Mitchell, H., (2008). Mentoring and coaching for professionals: A study of the research evidence. Variations, 1(4).

Massey, D. (2014). Taking on the world. Geography, 99(1), 36-39.

Popham, W. J. (2011). Assessment literacy overlooked: A teacher educator’s confession. The Teacher Educator, 46(4), pp.265-273.

Popham, W.J. (2008). Transformative assessment, Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Rehman, A. A. & Al-Bargi, A. (2014). Teachers’ Perspectives on Post Observation Conferences: A Study at a Saudi Arabian University. Theory and practice in Language Studies, 4(8), p.1558.

Roberts, R.L. (2019) in Hickman, D. (ed) Mentoring English teachers in the secondary school: a practical guide. London: Routledge.

Weedon, P., & Lambert, D. (2006). Geography inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the geography classroom. Sheffield: The Geographical Association.

Weedon, P., and Hopkin, J. (2006). Assessment for learning in geography. In Jones, M. (2017). Handbook of Secondary Geography. Geographical Association.


Early thoughts on ‘spatial computing’ through the lens of geography education

Kenneth Y T Lim, National Institute of Education, Singapore; Bryan Z W Kuok, Independent scholar; Ahmed H Hilmy, National Institute of Education, Singapore


By their very nature, virtual environments and immersive worlds suggest affordances for learning that geography educators have been particularly suited to speak towards, not least of which being the potential for dynamic, embodied, and multisensory learning experiences to sit alongside field studies in the physical world.  Such environments and their associated technologies are not new, having been marketed to consumers since at least the mid-2000s – and earlier if panoramic photographs are included.

Virtual environments are, however, enjoying a recent resurgence of interest (see, for example, Zhao, et al., 2021), not only because of the recent pandemic but because of the introduction of the mixed reality headset from Apple in February 2024. In its rhetoric of marketing, the company is advancing the paradigm of what it terms ‘spatial computing’.

In this essay, we share our early thoughts on the extent to which the spatiality of ‘spatial computing’ is a gimmick or something that might potentially whet the appetite of geography educators and our associated research community.

The surfacing of geographical intuitions

In the course of a typical school day, members of the school community – staff and students alike – traverse the campus several times a day, sometimes being exposed directly to the elements, while at other times in the shade. The paths we take as we traverse our campuses reflect our tacit responses to such exposure (Lim, et al. 2024). Through our own bodily experience, we therefore develop over time a textured map of our respective school campuses, which in turn influences our decision-making in subconscious ways.

Perhaps a signifier of the skilful teacher is how to design for opportunities for such tacit ‘geographical’ knowledge to be made more explicit, in order for students to connect their everyday embodied lived experiences in authentic ways with the formal codified domain knowledge of the classroom.

The moves we choose to make in our learning environments are constrained by a number of factors, one of which is the effective management of multiple digital devices during our lessons. We do not say this as shorthand for blind advocacy of affording each student access to their own device at all times – while there be some advantages to this, this model has its concomitant implications for classroom management. However, we see tremendous opportunities in digital tools that can serve as creative canvases for students to express their often nascent understandings of geographical concepts. For example, students could manipulate terrain in an immersive environment to depict features such as a river delta. These digital artefacts can then serve as focal points for teacher-facilitated classroom discussions, helping students connect geographical concepts with their own lived experiences.

On Collaborative Observation

In 2015, we published a paper (Cho & Lim, 2015) in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET) in which we advanced a pedagogical strategy we termed Collaborative Observation, as part of our work on the Six Learnings curriculum design framework (Lim, 2009). In this paper, we addressed the problem of how teachers could effectively manage and scaffold the learning experiences of pupils in large classes (typically, forty pupils per class), particularly when the learners are operating as avatars in an immersive environment. In that paper, we compared three different conditions, namely learners in a 1:1 ratio with a computer, learners in a 1:40 ratio sharing the use of a single computer, and traditional didactic instruction. With regard to the latter, we advanced the case for Collaborative Observation: namely, learners in a 1:40 ratio sharing the use of a single computer.

Learner-Generated Augmentation

In 2020, we followed up with a second paper in BJET, this time describing the construct of what we term as Learner-Generated Augmentation (Lim & Lim, 2020). The latter

describes activities in which learners use Augmented Reality (AR) tools to annotate their local environments, giving teachers better insight into which aspects of their surroundings students find significant and meaningful. In this context, ‘augmentation’ refers to the addition of digital information onto the physical environment through AR technology. Through this process, students can express their emerging understandings of a topic by linking digital content to personally meaningful elements in their physical environment.

For example, a student learning about local history might choose to digitally annotate a site within the neighbourhood with historical information, while the teacher may have chosen to augment the town hall instead. More often than not the elements in their environments which novices might choose to annotate would be different from those which the teacher (as domain expert) might choose. In the hands of a skilled teacher, such differences represent rich opportunities for discussion and mutual learning. Learner-Generated Augmentation acknowledges where the learners are coming from, helps make their otherwise tacit conceptions more visible to the teacher, and has applications in the sciences as well as in the humanities. For instance, in a geography lesson about their local community, students could be tasked with creating augmented reality annotations on a map to highlight landmarks, infrastructure, or environmental features that are personally significant to them. This would surface the students’ mental models of their neighbourhood to the teacher. The resulting student-created AR content could then serve as boundary objects for class discussion and collaborative knowledge building.

Spatial computing and its implications for geography education

The two papers published in 2015 and 2020 explored pedagogical strategies founded on distinct premises and contexts. Collaborative Observation, as described in the 2015 paper, involved multiple learners observing an expert (the teacher) perform a task in a virtual world, then collaboratively discussing and solving related problems. In contrast, the Learner-Generated Augmentation approach introduced in the 2020 paper tasked learners themselves with creating augmented reality artifacts to represent their emerging understanding of a topic, situated in personally meaningful real-world contexts.

While these two approaches may seem conceptually oppositional in terms of who generates the virtual / augmented content (expert vs learner) and the technology used (virtual world vs AR), the affordances of the Apple Vision Pro allow for a convergence of these premises and contexts. The device’s advanced AR capabilities enable both expert-led demonstrations akin to Collaborative Observation and learner-driven creation as in Learner-Generated Augmentation, all within the learner’s immediate environment. This fusion is enabled by what Apple refers to as the paradigm of ‘spatial computing’.

‘Spatial computing’ refers to the ability of devices like the Vision Pro to understand and interact with the user’s surrounding physical space, blending digital content seamlessly with the real world. It leverages technologies such as advanced computer vision, real-time 3D mapping, and gesture- / eye-tracking to create immersive mixed reality experiences anchored to the user’s environment.

‘Spatial computing’ technologies like the Vision Pro foreground the role of the body in meaning-making and creative expression. By allowing learners to engage with digital content overlaid on their physical surroundings, these devices facilitate an embodied, multisensory approach to learning that bridges the physical and psychological dimensions. Learners can leverage natural interactions and familiar environmental cues to construct personally relevant understandings, moving fluidly between consuming and producing knowledge artifacts in a shared hybrid space.

As a wearable, the Vision Pro lends itself naturally to the notion of embodiment, in that – in such cases – the learners’ auditory and visual sensory inputs are augmented by the affordances of whatever apps the learners are using, but also that the apps have a certain degree of geospatial permanence within the augmented world of the learner. The advanced AR capabilities of the device enable both peer-led demonstrations akin to Collaborative Observation and learner-driven creation as in Learner-Generated Augmentation, all within the learner’s immediate environment. There are competing technologies such as the Meta Quest 3 which is primarily focused on immersive VR experiences and Microsoft’s Hololens, although this appears to have more limited AR capabilities. While these competing headsets tend to be optimized for either VR consumption or basic AR annotations, Apple’s ‘spatial computing’ paradigm appears to better support both expert-guided collaborative experiences as well as open-ended learner creation within a unified device.

Given the cost of the Vision Pro at the time of writing, it will be some years off before schools can afford the luxury of a 1:1 ratio of the Vision Pro (or its successors or future competitors) to pupils. Yet this is not to discount the potential of the Vision Pro today for socially constructed meaning-making in field-based activities in both physical and virtual sites. Thus, for example, it is perfectly possible to imagine the scenario of a field-based lesson in which the learners annotate their local environments as they explore their neighbourhoods, leaving digital notes (such as text and sketches) at locations and sites that they themselves consider significant. In the context of a lesson unit, learners could be tasked to cast or to record their screens as they explore their environments and annotate them, for subsequent post-activity discussion in either small groups or as a class, as facilitated by the teacher.

Concluding remarks

Geographers have a unique appreciation that space is a shared and contested construct and at the same time, understanding that space and place are deeply personal and tacit. One of the earliest attempts to tease these tensions and relationships out through digital means was Moed’s (2002) project: ‘Annotate space: interpretation and storytelling on location’. That project pre-dated smartphones, using early mobile phones in urban environments to document social constructions of space. In the two decades that have since passed, a new generation of geographers has the potential digital wherewithal to annotate space in new and exciting ways. How we as a community of educators interpret these affordances in geography education is a story yet to be written.


Cho, Y. H., and K. Y. T. Lim, (2015). “Effectiveness of Collaborative Learning with 3D Virtual Worlds” in British Journal of Educational Technology, 48(1) pp 202-211.

Lim, I. J. E., Low, A. L. Y., and K. Y. T. Lim, (2024). “Optimising learning environments: a microclimate study of a school campus in Singapore using an integrated environment modeller simulation tool (IEMsim)” in Chova, L. G., Martinez, C. G., & Lees, J. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 18th annual International Technology, Education and Development Conference.

Lim. K. Y. T., (2009). “The Six Learnings of Second Life: A Framework for Designing Curricular Interventions In-world” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(1) pp. 4-11.

Lim, K. Y. T., and R. Lim, “Semiotics, memory and Augmented Reality: History education with Learner-Generated Augmentation” British Journal of Educational Technology, special section on “Beyond observation and interaction: Augmented Reality though the lens of constructivism and constructionism”, 51(3) pp 673-691

Moed, A. (2002). Annotate space: Interpretation and storytelling on location. Interactive telecommunications program, New York University.

Zhao, J., Wallgrün, J. O., Sajjadi, P., La Femina, P., Lim, K. Y. T., Springer, J., and A. Klippel, (2021). “Longitudinal effects in the effectiveness of educational virtual field trips” Journal of Educational Computing Research, 60(4), 1008-1034.

Award GEReCo

GEReCo Masters Dissertation Prize Awarded!

We are delighted to announce the outcomes from the inaugural GEReCo Masters Dissertation Award! This annual award is designed to celebrate and amplify the voices of emerging researchers who are shaping the future of geography education.

Many congratulations to Florence Smart (MSc Learning and Teaching, University of Oxford) for being awarded the Winning dissertation prize for a thesis titled: Postcolonial Pedagogy: An investigation into live global voices in the geography classroom.

The selection panel considered the thesis to be original and timely, contributing to work around education and the postcolonial and ‘global classroom’. initiatives. There was an impressive engagement postcolonial theory, geography and geography education, and critical attentiveness to the context of the school that was the site for the research. The design of the project was well considered with a thorough engagement with research ethics. We thought the study had significance in its contribution to post-colonial studies and theorisation, children’s geographies and geography education. It has the potential to prompt significant thought and further development of an ethics of care, respect and equity in the practice of global voices/classroom initiatives.

Many congratulations also to Martin Sutton (MA Education Geography, IoE/UCL) for the Highly Commended dissertation, titled: To what extent can online coaching software help trainee geography teachers to summatively assess pupils’ GCSE Geography examination answers?

The selection panel felt this investigation into online tools to support teachers’ assessment skills was very timely, as online technologies supporting assessment (including AI) are likely to become more common. The committee was particularly impressed by the careful location of the study in the field of assessment in geography education, including an excellent literature review. The research design and rigorous quantitative analysis was impressive, leading to impactful findings and conclusions. We felt this study had significance both by evidencing the benefit of online coaching for teachers’ assessment efficacy, and because it could inspire further research into the potential of online tools for developing geography teachers’ assessment capabilities.

Look out for further information on both research projects, including through blog posts on the GEReCo site.


Time to make more space for knowledge production in geography education?

 William Quirke, Dan Swanton, Sarah Trolley, Lauren Hammond, and Grace Healy


Beginning in their very early years, children explore material and social spaces, asking questions and engaging with stories as they inquire in, and about, the world (Owens et al., 2023; Puttick, 2023). Geography speaks ‘directly to children’s curiosity, wonder and concern for the world around them’ (Owens et al., 2022, p. 20). From exploring the micro-ecological worlds of schools through citizen science (Dunkley, 2023) to participatory mapping with young people in cities (Swords et al., 2019), geography education in formal and informal education spaces can play an important role in nurturing this curiosity and (re)orientating young people’s attention in, and with, the world (Biesta, 2021). These illustrative examples highlight that studying geography involves developing deeper knowledge and understanding of the discipline, and increasing agency in inquiring in, and about, geography (Firth, 2014; Roberts, 2023).

In this article, we consider the value of supporting students to engage with knowledge production in geography education through providing them with opportunities for thinking geographically, being geographers and doing geography. Geography education in schools has sometimes failed to engage with epistemic nature of geography, or the nature of geographical knowledge (Firth, 2014), meaning that knowledge production has – at times – been left under-explored in curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. This raises important questions about areas including, but not limited to; educators agency and confidence in teaching geographical methods; whether the nature of education spaces support students and educators in doing geography; and whether the geographical methods represented in geography curricula actively engage with disciplinary turns and thinking – for example, feminist, queer, decolonial and radical ways of inquiring – and how this shapes experiences and imaginations of knowledge production, as well as the representation of people and places in school geography.

The article draws upon contributions to an online seminar organised through the Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo) in Spring 2024. Following a merger in 2019, GEReCo acts as the UK’s sub-committee of the International Geographical Union’s Commission on Geographical Education (IGU-CGE). It is significant to note that all current members of the collective have a primary affiliation to an education institution/association based in England, with some (honorary) members also working/researching in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and/or internationally. GEReCo seminars seek to contribute to academic debate in, and about, geography education through engaging with people working in a variety of roles and spaces, and/or who have different perspectives on, and experiences of, geography education[1]. For example, the Spring 2024 seminar had contributions from colleagues working in England and Scotland to support critical consideration of how the construction of geography as a school subject in national education policy shapes how it is taught, learnt, and assessed.

In the following section, William Quirke (Teaching Fellow: PGDE Geography & Sustainable Development Education in the Institute of Education, University of Strathclyde), Dr Dan Swanton (Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Head of Teaching and Learning in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh), and Sarah Trolley (Senior Social Researcher at Defra and a recent geography teacher and MEd student at the University of Cambridge) – share a vignette from their research/practice, as they engage with these debates. We conclude the blog by reflecting on the importance of these discussions for young people and educators, also suggesting next steps for this work.

William Quirke: Opportunities and challenges for knowledge production in the Scottish geography classroom.  

Scottish education is currently experiencing a period of reform instigated by a number of recent reports and national consultations (Hayward 2023, Muir 2022). As such, there is much thought about the purpose of education and the range of knowledge and skills that ought to be included and assessed in the Curriculum for Excellence, Scotland’s national curriculum.

In relation to geography in the Broad General Education (BGE) phase in secondary school (ages 12-15), there are many opportunities for geography teachers to support learners in developing geographical skills to produce knowledge of their own. However, the extent to which this can be achieved is arguably supressed by current educational policy structures. Scotland has a robust policy foundation regarding the skills development of young people. To provide an example, published in 2009, Building the Curriculum 4 is a policy document which promotes ‘effective learning for children and young people enabling them to develop skills for learning, life and work across all aspects of the curriculum at all levels’ (Scottish Government, 2009). By focusing on nine key messages, the document highlights learner entitlements in this area and states the importance of learners being aware of and understanding the value of the skills they are developing within their educational careers. Although there is explicit mention of skills development in all curricular areas, my observations suggest that, in practice, this translates to a focus on the development of general skills such as time management, organisation, communication and leadership rather than distinct disciplinary skills related to a particular subject area such as disciplinary literacies or numeracies. This view is supported through other policy documents such as Developing the Young Workforce: Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy (Scottish Government, 2014) and Developing the Young Workforce Career Education Standard (Education Scotland, 2015) which feature a focus on skills development in pursuit of future employability as opposed to the creation of knowledge.

Thus, geography teachers in Scotland may find themselves in a situation where value is only placed on geographical skills that are interdisciplinary and transferable to the world of work. A consequence of this may be an incentive for teachers to deliver lessons that forgo opportunities to develop skills for geographical enquiry in favour of a ‘jug and mug’ or ‘chalk and talk’ model of teaching geographical knowledge where learners are passive recipients of teacher knowledge. There is only one Experience and Outcome (a statement which outlines progression in learning) mentioning geographical enquiry: ‘SOC 4-12b I can carry out a geographical enquiry to assess the impact and possible outcomes of climate change on a selected region and can propose strategies to slow or reverse the impact’ (Education Scotland, n.d. p10). Apart from this, there is little to mandate teachers to facilitate knowledge creation in BGE geography lessons. However, despite these challenges, it is important to note that there is a lot of flexibility within the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and geography teachers have a high level of autonomy. They are free to choose their own case studies, examples, pedagogical approaches, and modes of delivery to engage with the curriculum and have the freedom to engage with learning through local, national and international contexts of their own choosing. With this in mind, there is opportunity for teachers to take full advantage of this autonomy and find their own ways to make space for knowledge production in their own geography classrooms.

Dan Swanton: Using a zine assessment to make space for student curiosity

In this vignette I share some reflections on a zine assessment ( that I use with Year 3 and 4 undergraduate students to assess fieldwork on an optional course on cities. In the course we read, make and share zines as part of fieldwork assessment.  The fieldwork element is designed to build student confidence in the key theories and ideas by inviting students to design a half-day group fieldwork project focusing on a neighbourhood in Edinburgh. The students then make individual zines to document and share their fieldwork experience.

Zines are home-made, self-published magazines. They are made by folding a sheet of A3 paper into an 8-sided booklet. Making a zine typically involves folding, writing, drawing, collaging, cutting and pasting. Zines combine text with drawn and found images to create a visual and material artefact. One appeal is that zines offer a creative medium for students to document and reflect on their experiences of doing fieldwork and their responses to the ideas, methods, place, people and practices that they encounter. Another appeal is that zines are a type of participatory media. They are participatory in two senses. First, zines make space for personal and political stories that matter to whoever makes them.  Second, zines are participatory because they invested in public sharing (Piepmeier, 2008, p.58), zines are made to be shared and read.

Inspired by the writing of Sarah Ahmed (2019) and Rosmarie Garland-Thomson (2011) I’ve come to think of zines as a misfit assessment. It’s a misfit because it is out of sorts with many of the norms, assumptions and infrastructures that have developed around assessment in higher education. Zines breaks plagiarism-detection software; they sit uncomfortably with grade-related marking criteria; they challenge expectations of student academic writing. But these misfitting qualities of zines are generative. The zine assessment makes space for student curiosity, creativity and collaboration.

Zines make space for student curiosity in at least two ways. First, introducing zines and zine culture in an academic course can spark a searching and critical curiosity amongst students about different perspectives, voices and experiences. Zines can foreground people and stories that are often marginalised in curricula and encourage students to question the practices through which knowledge is produced and authorised contributing to important work decolonising and diversifying the curriculum (Gebrial, 2018; Second, when paired with student-designed fieldwork the zine assessment makes space for co-creation allowing students to make their learning relevant to them personally and to others. Zines become a vehicle for embedding engaged and critical pedagogies that emphasises the ‘need to actively transform knowledge, rather than passively come to it’ and value the ‘experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom’ (Giroux, 1983, p.7). The zine assessment works helps moving away from what Freire (1970) characterised as a banking model of teaching. The assessments help break down barriers between the classroom learning and everyday life. The material form of the zine, alongside its place in participatory cultures of knowledge sharing and organisation, challenges the students to reflect on, and practice, an ethics and politics of knowledge production. The zines assessment follows a more hopeful, ‘life-affirming’ approach that values students as partners and co-creators. It makes space for student agency in the learning process and pushes them to think about how knowledge should be an active force in shaping. A more just world.

Sarah Trolley: Beginning to explore A-level student’s ideas of knowledge in geography

When welcoming new Year 12 students (16-17 years old) at the start of their A level course to the Geography Department one September, I asked the class a few questions to get to know them. One of my questions was ‘what is your favourite topic in geography?’. One student said they preferred human geography, their explanation was particularly interesting: they enjoyed human geography because it is ‘all opinions’, whereas physical geography is ‘all facts’.

This made me curious. How do students’ view geography; specifically, how do they make sense of the nature of knowledge in human and physical geography.  This sparked a research project – as part of a Master in Education (MEd) course – consisting of 11 semi-structured interviews with Year 12 students. During the interviews students discussed their ideas about human and physical geography. One student, for example, said that for them human geography is like a ‘food web’ that has ‘no set place to start’, whereas physical geography was more like a ‘flow chart’. As I reflected on these ideas, I wondered where the student’s ideas had originated. Had I been teaching human geography as a ‘food web’ and physical geography as a ‘flow chart? It seemed clear, however, that the participating students held complex ideas about physical and human geography.

This research made me more determined to discuss knowledge in my classroom and make space for students to question the nature of geographical knowledge. I am still pondering how to best integrate these discussions into lessons and schemes of work, but have so far found Non-Exam Assessment (NEA) lessons fruitful in discussing what it is possible to know in geography and where geographical knowledge comes from with students.


Professor Pat Noxolo’s (2017, p.319) argues that “knowledge is not ‘universal and independent of context’, but is always deeply imbricated in power, and in the contingencies of its time, location and relations of production”. This emphasises how fundamental teaching about and engaging with forms of knowledge production is for geographical education. Within the short seminar and this blog post, we cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of knowledge, perspectives and experiences that exist around knowledge production in geography, rather we see this as a contribution to provoke reflection and enable others to consider absences and challenges in discussions so far.

We hope that if you engaged with the seminar and/or read this post, you might be able to reflect on your own research/practice as geography teachers/researchers/academics like Will, Dan and Sarah have about the space you give to engaging with knowledge production;

Firstly, you might consider what shapes the ways you think about knowledge production, and what influences your practice. For example: Is it what is written in national curricula/specifications? Is it formal professional development or informal conversations with colleagues?

Secondly, you might be inspired by the ways Sarah’s students were able to talk about their experiences and engage in discussions with children and young people about what they understand about knowledge production.

Thirdly, you might think about the artefacts you use that provide insights into knowledge production (as Dan does) and the ways in which assessment demonstrates importance of this aspect of geographical education.


Ahmed, S. (2019). What’s the Use? Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Biesta, G. (2022). World-centred education: A view for the present. Abingdon: Routledge.

Dunkley, R. (2023). Looking closely through environmental learning: Citizen science and environmental sustainability education. Hammond, L. Biddulph, M. Catling, S. McKendrick, J.H. (eds.) Children, education and geography: Rethinking intersections. Abingdon: Routledge.

Education Scotland (n.d.) Curriculum for Excellence Social Studies Experiences and Outcomes. Retrieved 18/03/2024, from Social studies: Experiences and outcomes (

Education Scotland. (2015). Developing the Young Workforce Career Education Standard 3-18. Retrieved 18/03/2024, from Career Education Standard (3-18) September 2015

Firth, R.(2014). Disciplinary knowledge: Task design in geography. Thomson, I. (eds.) Designing tasks in secondary education: Enhancing subject understanding and student engagement. Abingdon: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970/2017). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Gannon, K. (2020). Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. West Virginia University Press.

Garland-Thomson, R. (2011) ‘Misfits: A Feminist Materialist Disability Concept’, Hypatia 26:3, pp.591-609.

Gebrial, D. (2018). ‘Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change’ in Bhambra, G., Gebrial, D., and Nisancloglu, K. (eds.). Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press. pp.19-36.

Giroux, H. (2020). On Critical Pedagogy. London: Bloomsbury.

Hayward, L. (2023). The Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment. Retrieved 18/03/2024, from Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment: review and key recommendations – ( 

Muir, K. (2022). Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education. Retrieved 18/03/2024, from Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education – (

Noxolo, P. (2017). Introduction: Decolonising geographical knowledge in a colonised and re- colonising postcolonial world. Area, 49(3), 317– 319.

Owens, P. Rotchell, E. Sprake, S. Witt, S. (2022). Geography in the Early Years: Guidance for doing wonderful and effective geography with young pupils. Primary Geography. 109 pp. 19-22.

Piepmeier, A. (2009). Girl Zines: Making Media: Doing Feminism. New York: New York University Press.

Puttick, S. (2023). The geography teaching adventure: Reclaiming exploration to inspire curriculum and pedagogy. Abingdon: Routledge.

Roberts, M. (2023). Geography through enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school (second edition). Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Scottish Government (2009). Building the Curriculum 4: Skills for Learning, Skills for Life and Skills for Work. Retrived: 18/03/2024, from Building the Curriculum 4: Skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work (

Scottish Government (2024). Developing the Young Workforce: Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy. Retrieved 18/03/2024, from  Developing the young workforce: Scotland’s youth employment strategy – (

Swords, J. Jeffries, M. East, H. Messer, S. (2019). Mapping the city: Participatory mapping with young people. Geography. 104(3) pp. 141-147.

[1] You can access recordings of some of the previous seminars through the GEReCo blog: GEReCo Blog – GEReCo UK IGU-CGE

Award GEReCo

Geography Education Masters Dissertation Award

We are delighted to announce that applications are now open for the inaugural GEReCo Masters Dissertation Award!

Through this new annual award GEReCo seeks to celebrate and amplify the voices of emerging researchers who are shaping the future of geography education.

For more information and to apply, please see:


‘Teaching for Sustainable Futures’ – a research informed professional development programme

Dr David Mitchell, Associate Professor of Geography Education, UCL – Institute of Education

On 13th July 2023 the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (CCCSE) launched the report of a national survey of teachers in England and its flagship professional development programme for teachers, Teaching for Sustainable Futures. In this blog piece, I hope to show how Teaching for Sustainable Futures is not only a response to evidence of accelerating climate change, eco-anxiety and a demand from many parents, children, and teachers for more education about climate change. It is also an outcome of sustained research efforts to explore the educational potential of geography for challenging and uncertain futures. Of particular significance to the approach taken by the geography part of the professional development programme are concepts and tools drawn from GeoCapabilities: in particular, its approach to curriculum making and ‘future 3 curriculum’ scenarios (Young and Muller, 2010; Lambert, Béneker and Bladh, 2021).

The CCCSE’s 2023 teachers’ survey and an earlier survey of parents commissioned by the CCCSE in 2022, show that most parents and teachers want more opportunities for teaching about climate change and for sustainable futures.  The teachers’ survey showed that geography is the subject most likely to teach about climate change – which is no surprise, but it also revealed that 70% of teachers are self-taught when it comes to teaching about climate change and sustainability. There is a pressing need for more support for teachers and structured professional development in this area. In developing Teaching for Sustainable Futures, steered and supported by advisory teachers and academic colleagues, the intention is to connect research around why subject disciplinary knowledge matters in education, with some practical materials to support teachers.

The notion of GeoCapabilities uses the ideas of powerful knowledge (Young 2008), powerful pedagogies (Roberts 2017) and curriculum making, all deployed towards the goal of human development, measured as human capabilities. Capabilities here means achieving the enabling power to think geographically, freeing the individual (intellectually at least) to make real choices about how to live (Lambert et al, 2015). When capabilities become an educational goal geography, through its distinctive knowledge structure, offers a powerful way to understand climate change and can enable young people to make sense of it, and be able to think and act for themselves, toward more sustainable futures.

Concepts of place, space, environment, earth-processes and interconnection make up a key part of geography’s powerful disciplinary knowledge (Geographical Association, 2023). But knowledge is only powerful when teachers and young people are engaged with it. Teachers need access to rapidly evolving ideas which geographers play a part in developing and communicating: such as, the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction, and revisions on where we are in relation to keeping to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels (we are at 1.2 degrees at the time of writing). We believe that teachers also benefit from refreshing their understanding and use of the structure of the discipline itself, as this can be rather lost when the focus of teaching can be heavily on content coverage and generic ‘technique’ such as question practice to prepare students for examinations. A re-orientation to geography’s deeper potential (expressed as the ability to ‘think geographically’) supports teachers’ curriculum making so that young people can be more intrinsically interested and engaged, seeing significance in geography lessons beyond exam results. I believe Teaching for Sustainable Futures (TSF)exemplifies a ‘future 3’ curriculum in practice – one of engagement with an emancipatory view of geographical knowledge. Teachers can tap into geography’s potential to help young people to think, participate and ultimately make choices, around the big issues and questions of sustainable futures.

Some geography teachers express a heightened awareness that teaching about climate change can communicate ‘doom and gloom’ for young people. This is corroborated by Alcock’s research (2019) in England which found that both geography lessons and media representations feed into young people’s minds, the majority of who answer ‘no’ when asked: is the world getting better? The programme addresses this by showing ways that the geographical lens can help to explore climate change and the wider crises of sustainability we face, realistically, critically, but also with hope. This reminds us that geographical knowledge has educational potential because knowledge is so entwined with values in the geography classroom (Mitchell, 2022). Both academic geographers (eg Castree et al, 2010) and educationists in the field (notably Hicks, 2007; 2014) have been pioneering thought about how ‘pessimism of the intellect’ (to borrow from the famous phrase usually attributed to Gramsci) can be obviated, and the TSF programme at least tried to avoid this ‘trap’.

Geographical enquiry for action is a key pedagogy used and this is coupled with an emancipatory take on disciplinary knowledge for young people’s engagement in these issues. The programme draws on the Geographical Association’s curriculum framework (2023) amongst other research-informed materials including Huckle’s critical school geography (2022). Discussion questions and short activities are used and there is advice from classroom teachers, academics and others in the form of short video clips. Modules are free, online and can be accessed at any time. These are short courses, designed with busy teachers in mind to take about 90 minutes (or longer when the ‘going further’ options and links are followed). They can be taken individually, but taking them with colleagues, for example a geography department team, is encouraged for the discussion and collaborative curriculum making this supports.

There are separate programmes for primary and secondary age phases. The programme has begun with modules for history and geography, extending later to address the teaching of mathematics and English. The initial geography modules explore the potential of teaching geography for sustainable futures. Potentials are then exemplified using worked-through examples of critical geography teaching, for example, using some lessons created and taught to a group of 12–13-year-old children which examine Arctic ice restoration through a form of ‘biomimicry’. Students are asked to evaluate this with a geographical lens, and critically compare it to other geo-engineering approaches for mitigating climate change.

To access the programme, Teaching for Sustainable Futures, please click here. For the survey report, please click here.


Alcock, D. (2019) ‘Optimism, progress and geography – celebration and calibration’, Teaching Geography. 44 (3), pp. 118–121.

Castree, N., Chatterton, P. A., Heynen, N., Larner, W. and Wright, M. W. (Eds) (2010) The Point Is To Change It: Geographies of Hope and Survival in an Age of Crisis. Chichetser: Wiley-Blackwell.

Geographical Association (2023) A framework for the school geography curriculum. Online material. last accessed July 2023.

Hicks, D. (2007) ‘Lessons for the future: a geographical contribution’, Geography, 92, 4, pp. 179–88.

Hicks, D. (2014) Education for Hope: Climate change, peak oil and the transition to a post-carbon future. London: Trentham Books/Institute of Education Press

Huckle, J. (2022) Critical School Geography. Self-published, online content last accessed July 2023.

Lambert, D., Béneker, T. and Bladh, G. (2021) The Challenge of Recontextualisation and Future 3 Curriculum Scenarios: an overview. In Fargher, M., Mitchell, D. and Till, E. (eds) Recontextualising Geography in Education. Cham: Springer.

Lambert, D. Solem, M. & Tani, S. (2015) ‘Achieving Human Potential Through Geography Education: A Capabilities Approach to Curriculum-making in Schools’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105, 4), pp. 723-735.

Mitchell, D. (2022): GeoCapabilities 3: knowledge and values in education for the Anthropocene, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education.

UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (2023) last accessed July 2023.

Young, M. (2008) Bringing Knowledge Back In: From social constructivism to social Realism in the sociology of education. London: Routledge.

Young, M. & Muller, J. (2010) Three Educational Scenarios for the Future: lessons from the sociology of knowledge, European Journal of Education, 45, 1, pp. 11-26.


Geography education for the Anthropocene: Reflections on IGU-CGE 2023 from the conference organising committee

Lauren Hammond, Emma Rawlings Smith, Grace Healy, Steve Puttick and David Mitchell 

Introducing the conference

The International Geographical Union’s Commission on Geographical Education’s (IGU-CGE) purpose is ‘to promote geographical and environmental education globally’ (IGU-CGE, n.p). Members of IGU-CGE organise a conference annually to support research sharing and knowledge exchange between colleagues researching and teaching in geography education. Every fourth year, the conference comes to the United Kingdom (UK) and this year’s (2023) conference was hosted in Oxford by the Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo), which merged with the UK’s sub-committee for the IGU-CGE in 2019. The conference comprised of a meeting of the emerging scholars’ network, a fieldtrip, 2 keynotes, 2 convened sessions, 64 papers and 8 posters from 87 delegates. There were 93 attendees from institutions in 17 countries across 5 continents. Some 39 of the presenters were doctoral researchers reflecting the growth of research interest in, and the importance of early career research(ers) to, the field of geography education. It was notable that there was more representation from colleagues working in some countries – such as England, the People’s Republic of China, the Netherlands and Germany – than other nations. This is important to note, as it may reflect both differences in the place of geography education in national and institutional contexts, along with socio-spatial injustices in knowledge production and sharing. 

We write together as co-organisers and members of GEReCo. We begin by introducing the theme of the conference Geography education for the Anthropocene, before reflecting on the significance of the development of the emerging scholars’ network. We then offer thoughts on the keynotes, and the fieldtrip led by ‘Uncomfortable Oxford’ – a student-led social enterprise who share ‘the stories beneath the spires, uncovering the unheard voices from Oxford’s past’ (Uncomfortable Oxford, n.p.). We conclude by suggesting three themes of particular interest from papers across the conference.

The conference was organised around the theme ‘geography education for the Anthropocene’. The Anthropocene is a term that was first used by Paul Crutzen – the Nobel Peace Prize winning atmospheric chemist – in 2000 (Nixon, 2011). It is an ‘epochal term: it proposes that modern humans possess powers equivalent to the great forces of global nature – although these are unwitting powers that are the combination of countless everyday activities (e.g., driving to work) undertaken by billions of people’ (Castree, 2017: n.p.). There are injustices in the causes and impacts of the climate and ecological changes which shape the Anthropocene. For example, the fossil economy has been fueled by the enslavement, movement and maltreatment of Black and Brown people to support Western lifestyles through the extraction of materials such as coal (Yusoff, 2018). Injustices and processes of exploitation evolve, but are ongoing, as some people still view ‘the Earth as though it were an inert entity that exists primarily to be exploited and profited from, with the aid of technology and science’ (Ghosh, 2021: p.119), with some companies, politicians and world leaders actively promoting this through economic policies and actions (Latour, 2017). 

The theme was chosen to reflect the interest, concern and sense of urgency about geography education’s engagement with the area. As Lambert (2023: n.p.) expresses in a recent GEReCo blog ‘the discomforting truth remains that we know human societies on planet Earth face existential challenges’. More-than-humans also face apocalyptical violence (Ghosh, 2021) in this period of multi-species urgency which requires us to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway, 2016), be truly present, and to reimagine our connections, collaborations and entanglements. For Latour (2017), these are problems of scale, dimensions, lodging and belonging as people (re)consider where and how they live, and their connections to place and more-than-human companions.

The Anthropocene raises important and complex questions around curriculum, pedagogy and purpose, which geography educators in all settings and stages and contexts are grappling with. Our hope was for the conference to be an opportunity for critical dialogue with these questions. For example, Tom Wils (Fontys University) considered the value of pedagogies of hope and courage to support young people in exploring the Symbiocene. Through the use of scenarios representing the future, Wils examined how dialogic teaching could support young people’s agency in the classroom and beyond. The conference also provided an opportunity for colleagues to critically reflect upon the material, digital and social spaces that we work within and (re)produce in the Anthropocence. For example, Daniel Sewlyn (London Mining Network) raised questions about the procurement of educational technology in the UK, and how we explore injustices in production and mining with young people through school geography.

Structuring the conference: Networks, keynotes, sessions and fieldtrips

The conference began with an opportunity for emerging scholars to meet, network and share experiences, and to shape the development of the network. The emerging scholars’ network was initiated by Hermione Xin Miao (University of Stirling, UK) and Melissa Hanke (Universität Hamburg, Germany), in collaboration with Dr Gillian Kidman (Monash University, Australia) and Dr Martin Hanus (Charles University, Czechia) from IGU-CGE’s steering committee following the 2022 conference in Rennes. The emerging scholars’ network is in development, and – as their poster abstract expresses in the conference programme – has the broad aim of ‘empowering everyone in geography education… to connect emerging scholars across continents to collaborate and build a network for exchange and discussion.’ Through a meeting and an interactive poster, the network fostered the views of attendees to inform the next stages in its development.

The first keynote was an after-dinner speech from Dr Amber Murrey (University of Oxford, UK), Pedagogical disobedience for the Anthropocene, which encouraged colleagues to ‘think about the potentials for purposeful pedagogical disobedience in the classroom’. Murrey’s keynote was deeply embedded in the space of the University of Oxford. She reflected on how as an educator she had challenged injustices, and not only through what she teaches and how: she spoke about how the actions of educators and faculty members within, and beyond, education spaces matters.

In the second keynote, Spaces of childhood and education in the Anthropocene, Professor Peter Kraftl (University of Birmingham, UK) raised questions about children’s entanglements with more-than-humans in the worlds that they shape and are shaped by. For example, drawing on the Treescapes (n.p.) project, Kraftl explored how young people in urban spaces develop diverse knowledges of trees and considered the value of co-production with young people, artists and scientists. Kraftl also considered the institutionalization of childhood, including through, education and how young people are sometimes highly surveilled in their bodies, ‘behaviour’, and in their academic ‘performance’. Kraftl examined how different and diverse education spaces are socially and materially constructed sometimes with the aim of challenging ‘mainstream’ educational experiences. Kraftl’s keynote suggested important themes for further consideration in geography education, including around the relationships between children, (geography) education and environment – as they are and as they might be envisaged for the future.

Conference sessions were diverse and reflected a thriving international geography education research community. Sessions explored themes such as: ethics, pedagogies of hope and futures thinking; teacher education; national curricular and teaching materials; the (in)visibility of subject content; representations and voices in the classroom; knowledge production and exchange; digital geographies and geospatial capabilities. The final session on ‘Geography education, health and risk in the Anthropocene’ engaged with the complexity of the global ecological crisis. Papers across the conference reflected on the importance of engaging with diverse knowledges, stories and voices. This included active consideration of children’s geographies, and how, and why, educators might further engage with them to support young people in meaning making, to challenge injustices and to support young people’s citizenship in education spaces. 

The importance of engaging with the personal geographies and knowledges of teachers was raised by Iram Sammar (Kings College London), as she illuminated the significance of starting from the perspective of a Muslim geography teacher and surfacing ‘hidden histories’ in relation to the Anthropocene through the lens of Islam. Papers critically examined which knowledges and geographies from across the world were included and represented in geography education. Through introducing a collaborative curriculum project involving researchers from the Decolonising Education for Peace in Africa project, the Geographical Association and geography teachers in Cameroon and the UK, Winter et al.’s paper raised questions around knowledge production and access to geographical knowledge.

The Friday fieldtrip was a walking tour of Oxford led by Oxford students and designed to take us beyond the traditional narratives of the city by highlighting often hidden histories of race, gender, class, and legacies of empire:

 Conclusions: Reflecting on themes that emerged from the conference

Amid the wide range of presentations and discussions, we want to highlight three themes emerging from the conference as key areas of future research in geography education: expanding knowledges; post-growth; and hope. First, the importance and ethics of engaging with and valuing diverse knowledges, stories and voices in geography education. Papers in the conference illustrated the importance of engaging with disciplinary knowledge, the histories of geography, indigenous knowledges, everyday knowledge and also the practice and professional knowledges of educators in geography education. Second, the nature of geography education in a post growth world. Dorling (2020: p.1) uses the term slowdown to represent changes in our expectation of acceleration, not only in terms of population, but also technological advancement and rising prices. Dorling argues that slowdown requires a change in perception of what it means to slowdown. For example, he states that slowdown may mean 

‘…more durable goods and less waste. Social and environmental problems that we currently worry about will not be problems in the future. We will, of course, have new problems—including ones we cannot even imagine right now.’

As papers in the conference reflected, this requires geography educators to consider not only what they are teaching, but how, why, where and with what.  

Finally, papers encouraged reflection on the place of hope in education. In a context of concerns being raised about eco-anxiety and the potentially catastrophic impacts of humans on the Earth, the conference encouraged discussion about how children and young people might be supported and empowered to envision and enact alternative, and more hopeful, futures.


Castree, N. 2017. ‘The Anthropocene and geography’ available at: (accessed 11/07/2023)

Dorling, D. 2020. Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration-and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives. London: Yale University Press.

Ghosh, A. 2017.  The Nutmeg’s curse: Parables for a planet in crises London: John Murray Publishers.

Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

IGU-CGE, Homepage. Available at: Home – IGU CGE ( (Accessed 08/07/2023)

Lambert, D. 2023. Teaching the human epoch: The geography of it all. Available at: GEReCo Blog – GEReCo UK IGU-CGE (accessed 11/07/2023)

Latour, B. 2017.  Down to Earth: Politics in the new climatic regime Cambridge: Polity Press.

Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Treescapes. About us. Available at: About us | Treescapes ( (accessed 11/07/2023)

Uncomfortable Oxford. Home. Available at: 
Home | Uncomfortable Oxford (accessed 11/07/2023)

Yusoff, K. 2018. A billion black Anthropocenes or none Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press


What do we know about initial teacher education in geography?

Simon Catling, Emeritus Professor Oxford Brookes University

What do we know? Surprisingly little it seems, at least from scholarly articles and research.

Though we have details about issues in teacher recruitment and entry into the workforce (Tapsfield, 2016; UCET, 2023), initial teacher education is not a well-researched area, as Butt (2020) indicates in his study of research in geography education in the UK.

There has been some research during the past twenty to thirty years mostly in small scale and single institution studies and typically examining prospective teachers’ ideas about geography, their learning about teaching geography and teacher educators’ identities.  But there has been plenty of public debate on what should be included in geography teacher education programmes in universities or schools, frequently referencing Ofsted inspections, and government policies that determine broadly what should be in courses. Much of what we understand about geography initial teacher education is gained through geography teacher educators talking to each other, such as through publications and conference presentations. While longstanding key texts, such as Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School (Biddulph et al., 2021) provide invaluable guidance for pre-service geography teachers, they say little about the nature and impact of their courses for such prospective geography teachers. This is also true of those texts for future primary teachers, such as Mastering Primary Geography (Barlow and Whitehouse, 2019). 

Perhaps it should be of concern to us that as geography teacher educators we know so little about learning to teach our subject from research, even though ‘research engagement’ is now de rigueur in the teaching profession. (Lambert, 2018)

Secondary teacher education programmes are promoted with succinctly informative outlines of why they are of value in learning to teach geography. Such promotions identify what courses say they cover, including the time and focus of teaching and study in school. What we cannot get a sense of – though perhaps we need to investigate – is whether what is advertised about geography secondary courses is lived up to in the practice of the full programme. In comparison, primary initial teacher education programmes offer a different sales pitch, basing these courses in teaching the whole curriculum and developing younger children’s skills in the core areas of literacy and mathematics. Geography rarely gets a mention. We need to explore why marketing geography (and indeed other foundation subjects) in primary courses is rare and whether geography course provisions ought to be more evidently mentioned. 

If we believe that learning to teach geography in certain ways is necessary and significant for future teachers, we need to research what this is and gather the evidence. Likewise, we should investigate what it is that prospective teachers of geography bring to these primary and secondary programmes. Why do they join the programme they do, as undergraduates or postgraduates? What is the range of understanding and experience pertinent to geography which they and tutors assume they have? How do geography tutors use such information in their courses, if they do? Again, we know positive approaches are enacted but largely through anecdotal discussions rather than thorough robust research investigation.

While there are some commonalities across secondary and primary pre-service programmes there are also fundamental differences. A prospective secondary geography teacher will spend time in school (preferably more than one) working with geography colleagues and teaching geography lesson sequences, often (but not always) encouraged to bring stimulus and some novelty to lessons. Although it may well be that future primary teachers are able to teach lessons in a focused geography topic during their school experiences, it is possible they may not encounter geography teaching at all. We know such disparities exist, but we need research on the extent of the range of experience of future primary and secondary teachers in learning to teach geography in schools. What is the extent of such disparities and how do they affect future teachers’ potential and capabilities as teachers of geography? 

Much has been made of the role of curriculum making in geography education (Biddulph, 2018). In what ways does this intellectual and practical activity feature in preservice courses and, if it does, how does it contribute to high levels of teacher agency (Biesta, Priestley and Robinson, 2015). More investigations into the work of geography mentors, given their important role, is also needed, to develop their work in secondary geography initial teacher education (Healey et al., 2022). It is also required to provide evidence of the practice (or its lack) by primary geography subject leads (Howells et al., 2021). Indeed, we might ask, who the primary geography mentors are and how are they chosen; and, if geography is well taught in the primary schools to which prospective teachers are sent for their school placements. Is there any evidence for example that primary schools which have earned the GA’s Primary Geography Quality Mark are better placements than those without? And why?

These topics and issues are not simply matters for the countries of the UK. There is little available information about the nature of the course content in secondary and primary pre-service courses across the nations of the world. Overall, research is lacking across institutions and schools about how courses are taught and what their impact is, let alone about comparability between providers. With the increasing diversity of providers and their number, this is not a straightforward concern to research. Indeed, this diversity has become a legitimate matter of research in its own right as private individuals and groups have begun to take an entrepreneurial interest in teacher training – and in some settings with very little public accountability (eg Black, 2015).

In much of the world, there appears to be negligible (comparative) analysis of pre-service geography courses, their staffing, their time provision, their resourcing and the placements of their prospective teachers of geography. There is little to draw on globally to help future research and comparison.

The geography education research community debates curriculum questions and the question of geographical knowledge (eg Morgan and Lambert, 2023). Individuals share experiences, ideas and intentions about teaching pe-service teachers how to teach geography to infant children right through to A level students. Yet as a community we seem to find it difficult to research and draw well-grounded findings from teaching pre-service students and their courses, so that we can develop, (re)construct and be creative about the courses we provide. The community seems to have been more trusting of service and experience than of research, capable of critiquing preservice course strengths and limitations and of government proposals and policies, but reluctant to examine presumptions and claims through systematic and dispassionate research.

Geography pre-service teacher education has been working in an environment of changing expectations and shifting requirements for many years, which seem to need constant shifts of focus and course revisions, if not closure. Before one set of changes can bed in and be properly reviewed for effectiveness or efficacy, the next set of changes seem designed to ensure that this is not possible to do, and so we move, poorly informed, from one set of changes to another. Does this really matter other than to ourselves? If it does, how can we fund and find the time in busy and over-pressed working schedules to do the research into our own practices?


Barlow, A. and Whitehouse, S. (2019) Mastering Primary Geography. London: Bloomsbury.

Biddulph, M. (2018) Curriculum Enactment in Jones, M. and Lambert, D. (Eds) Debates in Geography Education.Abingdon: Routledge.

Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A companion to school experience. Abingdon: Routledge.

Biesta, G., Priestley, M. and Robinson, S. (20115) “The role of beliefs in teacher agency.” Teachers and Teaching21(6), 624-640.

Black, L. (2015) Schools officials’ consulting raises questions of transparency. Chicago Tribune. October 23.

Butt, G. (2020) Geography Education Research in the UK: Retrospect and Prospect. Cham: Springer.

Healey, G., Hammond, L., Puttick, S. and Walshe, N. (Eds) (2022) Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School: A Practical Guide. Abingdon: Routledge.

Howells, K. and Lawrence, J. with Roden, J. (2021) Mentoring Teachers in the Primary School: A Practical Guide. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lambert, D. (2018) Teaching as a research-engaged profession: uncovering a blind spot and revealing new possibilities, London Review of Education. 16(3) 357-370.

Morgan, J. and Lambert, D. (2023) Race, Racism and the Geography Curriculum. London: Bloomsbury Academic

Tapsfield, A. (2016) Teacher education and the supply of geography teachers in England. Teaching Geography, 41(2), 105-109.

UCET (2023) Response to the Call for Evidence to the Education Select Committee: Teacher recruitment, training and retention. London: UCET.


Teaching in the human epoch: the geography of it all

By Emeritus Professor David Lambert

An earlier version of this article was published in Public History Weekly[1]: that was a special issue in which scholars discussed mainly the role of history in addressing the Anthropocene. It is interesting indeed that history educators are taking an interest in deep time – that is, geological time scales. But as John Dewey pointed out in the early twentieth century, at about the time when teaching American history in US schools was in its great ascendancy, geography is the subject that studies the Earth as the home of humankind. It is therefore reasonable to ask what geographical studies might bring to deliberations with young people about contemporary predicaments and existential challenges associated with the human epoch – I say more about this later. 

However, the profound significance of a geographical gaze as distinct from an historical one was, for Dewey, dependent upon its insistence on synthesis – to see the Earth as whole and not divided into human, physical, social or natural realms. Achieving such unity is pedagogically ambitious requiring a conceptual approach to teaching geography, always coming back to understanding the relations and links between phenomena. In Dewey’s estimation this was rarely achieved, school geography more likely to resemble the cartoonish caricature of the subject: of lists, maps and more lists to memorize random facts for no apparent purpose:

“The earth as the home of man is humanizing and unified; the earth viewed as a miscellany of facts is scattering and imaginatively inert.” (Dewey, 1916, p 240)

Leaving aside the school subject for a moment, geography itself has been described as one of the fundamental curiosities that human beings possess. Furthermore, it is claimed that an interest in geography is in the end, always about survival (Bonnett, 2008). Where you build your settlements (and what with), what you choose to grow, where you dispose of waste, the measures you take to sustain life, what you make and who you trade with… these are all matters that give rise to geographical questions, and John Dewey realised this. They are questions that demand knowledge of both the physical environment (weather and climate, life on earth and landscape) and human behaviours (in cultural, economic, social and political realms), for geographical questions are usually concerned with how various influences and factors interrelate and interact. Thus, although we can talk about ‘human’ and ‘physical’ geography – and frequently geographers self-identify as being one or the other – in truth, thinking geographically about an ever-changing world always carries a relational component which seeks to cross this ‘human-nature’ divide (see Castree, 2005). 

It is important to acknowledge the intellectual challenge contained in this claim about the power of geography, for the physical-human divide is real in both epistemological and ontological terms. For many in academic life it is unbridgeable, to the point at which some leading geographers have questioned the very possibility of describing geography as a discipline at all (Clifford, 2018). It is at least sprawling, eclectic and very ‘horizontal’ in its structure, making geography appear unruly and lacking the well-defined ‘verticality’ displayed by, say, physics – or perhaps in its own highly specialist research sub-fields.[2] Furthermore, in chasing specialist research funding and prioritising publication in high-status journals, academics in geography departments can function perfectly well without having to ‘think geographically’ in the sense outlined above. This alone may explain why many geography departments in the US have been reclassified since the 1990s,[3] and why in the USA the majority have disappeared completely – never really recovering from what the president of Harvard declared on closing down the geography programme there in 1948, that ‘geography is not a university subject’.

The bequeathed problem is that in most US states, geography is no longer an identifiable school subject either, appearing only as an often quite minor ‘content strand’ within social studies. Geography’s unquestioned place in school during expansive and turbulent nation building years of the latter half of the nineteenth century was undermined in the 1916 National Education Association (NEA) report which recommended that geography be limited to half a year in seventh grade. From then on the subject was considered merely ‘incidental to history’, a judgement influenced perhaps by the contemporaneous commentary from Dewey. It has frankly never recovered from this judgement, mainly through its own failure to articulate convincingly its purpose and educational value (McDougall (2015, p 51). This is not quite the same in the UK where a lively discourse has emerged over many decades showing the contributions geographical thinking can make, not only to the intellectual development of children and young people but to their preparedness to ‘take on the world’ (Massey, 2014). In the UK, there is a fairly sophisticated, dynamic understanding of school geography, even though this is often at variance with what geographers do in the universities – and of course, geography as it exists in the popular imagination of pub quizzes, game shows and indeed many politicians and policy makers.

I suspect John Dewey would agree with my argument here that geography, based on the notion of educating young people to ‘think geographically’, is a precious cultural asset, and that in the human epoch it needs to be rediscovered in the school curriculum. It is a school subject that is inherently inter-disciplinary, and which explicitly takes as its object of study the Earth as our home. When we re-imagine those enduring ‘survival’ questions sampled earlier for present day societal and global challenges (including, but not limited to, the climate emergency), then the case for geographical thinking becomes even more convincing. Take for instance the 2020 global pandemic: the scrambling of governments to respond with varying levels of effectiveness have created fascinating human geographies. Understanding the pandemic, in terms of how the Covid19 virus spreads, the circumstances that encouraged its transmission and the measures that have managed to suppress this, arises from quintessentially geographical questions. The spatially differentiated incidence and impact of the disease can be explained only by a combination of environmental, social, economic and of course political factors. It is important to understand the significance of ‘the geography of it all’. 

Furthermore, the 2020-21 health emergency has resulted in monumental levels of state debt – on top of the years of austerity that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. In Chapter 6 of The Enigma of Capital (entitled ‘The geography of it all’), David Harvey states categorically that “the circulation of capital does not take place on the head of a pin” (2010:159), instead stressing the ways that global capital flows are also spatially discerning. Just as with the global pandemic – or even the circulation of heat in the Earth’s atmospheric system – a global perspective does not imply that local geographies are dead. Far from it, as attempts at forms of international or even global governance show us very well. Trump’s ‘America First’ policies designed to undermine NATO, the UN and WHO, and of course the UK’s Brexit adventure, were politics fuelled by nativist instincts and none too carefully examined notions of national exceptionalism. But as Harvey has also pointed out, it was no use assembling rational economic arguments to stave off Brexit in 2016: “economics only trumps politics in the long run, and in the long run we are all dead.”[4]

So, while economics is notoriously abstract (theorising, as if on the head of a pin), geography attempts to give human and physical processes empirical meaning. Political geographers have shown that the scale of localised ‘experience’ in which people live, and the ‘real’ scale of global processes both directly, but differentially, impact on people’s lives (Flint and Taylor, 2018). Given that part of thinking geographically means that we teach young people to grasp the interlocking nature of place and space we can see the profound educational contribution teaching geography can make, at least in principle. This is not to teach young people what to think about the politics, but through the geography of it all, ways to think productively about themselves at home on planet Earth. To give this statement empirical bite, let us just consider just one recent incidence of the climate emergency: the forest fires raging in California and the Pacific Northwest States in 2021. These fierce and deadly fires are diagnosed as part of the global climate emergency. They result from extreme weather events predicted to occur with more frequency and with greater peaks than before the atmospheric impact of rapid sustained carbon-based economic growth since the mid-twentieth century. However, politicians, even those with climate change denying instincts, were not entirely out of order in claiming local explanations and solutions to the catastrophes – which are, of course, all experienced in localities. Issues such as improving forest management techniques, creating more and wider fire breaks and even regulations on where to build settlements – all need to adjust to the new normal. Think geographically requires us to hold all this in mind, as “unified” to use Dewey’s words.

Thinking geographically, in the form I am assembling here, is multifaceted and not straightforward. It is not ‘just’ another way to enhance curiosity in young people, important though this is. Developing curiosity in schools, through languages, mathematics, the sciences, arts and humanities, is perhaps the greatest tool society has collectively, to enhance democracy and to help resist baser, parochial political instincts. However, it goes almost without saying that such a liberal, Deweyian ideal is now under so much pressure that it has an almost hollow tone to it. In the world of education, we are used to the discourse of failure and derision resulting in continuous reform designed to raise levels of ‘accountability’ in teaching and in teacher training, but also in school organisation, school management and leadership, the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. For in society at large, which is far from sanguine about the Age of Acceleration (Friedman, 2016) – of which the climate emergency is just one aspect, we are browbeaten about the end of progress. It is now no longer assumed that children will have ‘better’ lives than their parents, producing a lingering air of anxiety or even deep and profound fatalism. In these circumstances, schools have become mainly an arm of performance driven economic policy, as if just more of the same, but just faster being based on ‘new kinds of smart’, will resolve things. Education can surely provide a more ambitious response than this, which is tantamount to ‘hoping for the best’. Can we return to, or renew, a bigger sense of mission in education, one that imagines schools as part of the means at society’s disposal to stave-off the inevitable? If we can, developing the capacity in young people to think geographically has a part to play in this.

And so we come, if not to the apocalypse, to confronting the human epoch, or Anthropocene. For when the pandemic is under control, Brexit has become a fact and the Trump years have been placed in parenthesis (perhaps), the discomforting truth remains that we know human societies on planet Earth face existential challenges. Even geographer Danny Dorling in his optimistic Slowdown (Dorling, 2020) in which he shows that many of the taken for granted ‘accelerations’ of our age, notably the population explosion, are well past their peaks, admits that the climate emergency is both real and urgent. So far, global mitigation policies have been inadequate to prevent average global temperature increases of more than 2 degrees centigrade – which will result in the inundation of major world cities, the disappearance of whole countries, high frequency extreme weather events and enormous movements of desperate people (and the prospect of the global super-rich trying to insulate themselves on protected gated communities in New Zealand and other ‘safe havens’). To paraphrase David Harvey, the economy might well trump politics in the long run, but the environment trumps everything. 

In other words, environmental earth systems represent the bottom bottom line in any attempt to audit and understand human life at home on planet Earth. But not only this. The profundity of the Anthropocene is in accepting that it is an identifiable epoch of geological time – when human activity powerful enough to shape the planet’s physical systems will have detectable consequences in the fossil record. When we read that the weight of plastic waste in the sea is now the equivalent of the weight of the fish that swim in it; or that the weight of human made edifices now outweighs the whole of plant and animal life on Earth, we can intuit that the Anthropocene (which is said by many to have begun in the mid-twentieth century) is a fact.  We might query the measurement instruments and methodology, but we would know that to do so would be like whistling in the wind. For we know that humans have the ability to extinguish biodiversity (including much human life) on Earth. And we know that this is beginning to look inevitable.

Enormous intellectual effort is being put to work, not only to find technological and economic solutions but also social and cultural interventions that may help stave-off the inevitable. Interestingly, there are also important debates emerging about how it came to be like this. For example, philosophers of history are conversing about how to incorporate the long-term history of the Earth into historical studies and how to recognise the non-human, or ‘planetary’, as historical (Latour and Chakrabarty, 2020). A key point in the historical debate is the acceptance that “… the Earth has become an agent and no longer the backdrop of human agency” which leads to the conclusion that earth systems, Gaia (or indeed geography) are far from merely ‘incidental’ to history. This is potentially quite an about turn from the earlier, degraded view of geography that took hold for much of the twentieth century. Interestingly, Bruno Latour designates the last century as the “lost century” – because it took scholars and society at large so long to grasp the real ‘bottom line’. This was especially true in the triumphalist period since 1989 and the ‘end of history’ following the Cold War victory over communism, a time when the risks of climate change and pollution were already well understood.

An appropriate educational response to the human epoch needs to value geographical thinking: thinking that does not put human beings above (or even separate from) nature; that puts locales and nations into their global context; and which always seeks to understand interconnections. The relevance of Geography For Life in the US, or the National Curriculum programmes of study in England, for encouraging or enabling teachers to engage in such ‘unified’ thinking with their students has to be brought into question. Reform has to get beyond refining and reproducing the standards. We tried to take some steps to do this in the GeoCapabilities project[5], which has attracted considerable productive debate in the field of geography education (eg Béneker, 2018; Bustin, 2019; Maude, 2016; Lambert, Solem and Tani, 2015; Lambert, Béneker and Bladh; 2021; Uhlenwinkel et al, 2017). I believe reformed school geography, which seeks to enhance children and young people’s capabilities with regard to thinking about society-nature relationships and environmental futures, represents a profound educational response to the challenges of the human epoch.

One of the principles of the GeoCapabilities project was that real curriculum reform is distributed. It is in the hands of teachers working in educational settings locally, often in teams but frequently on their own. Teachers are the curriculum makers: they enact the curriculum with the young people they teach. In this sense teachers have considerable agency (see Lambert and León, 2023). Yes, they have to meet the standards and deliver the programme, but there are so many ways to do this and to make it matter to students.


Béneker, T. (2018) Powerful Knowledge in Geographical Education. Inaugural lecture as professor of Geography and Education, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University (16.10.2018)

Bustin, R. (2019) The Potential of Geography Education and the Capability Approach. Abingdon: Routledge.

Bernstein, B. (2000) Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield

Bonnett, A. (2008) What is Geography? London: Sage.

Castree, N. (2005) Nature (Key Ideas in Geography). Abingdon: Routledge.

Clifford, N. (2018) Geography’s identity as an academic discipline. Jones, M. and Lambert, D. (Eds) Debates in Geography Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: MacMillan. (

Dorling, D. (2020) Slowdown: the end of the Great Acceleration – and why it’s good for the planet, the economy and our lives. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Flint C and Taylor P (2018) Political Geography: World Economy, Nation State and Locality. (Seventh Edition) Abingdon: Routledge.

Friedman, T. L. (2016). Thank You for Being Late: An Optimists Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Harvey, D. (2010) The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. London: Profile Books.

Lambert, D., Béneker, T. and Bladh, G. (2021) The challenge of ‘recontextualisation’ and Future 3 curriculum scenarios: an overview in Fargher, M., Mitchel, D. and Till, E. (Eds) (2021) Recontextualising Geography in Education.Cham: Springer.

Lambert, D. and León, K. (2023) The value of geography to an individual’s education, in Biddulph, M., Catling, S., Hammond, L. & and McKendrick, J. (Eds) Transforming Children’s Geographies: Rethinking Children’s Geographical Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lambert, D., Solem, M., and Tani, S. (2015). Achieving Human Potential Through Geography Education: A Capabilities Approach to Curriculum Making in Schools. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 105 (4), pp. 723-735.

Latour, B. and Chakrabarty, D. (2020) Conflicts of Planetary Proportion – a conversation, Journal of the Philosophy of History, 14, 419-454.

Massey, D. (20-14) Taking on the World, Geography, 99, 1, 36-39.

Maude, A. (2016). What might powerful geographical knowledge look like? Geography, Vol. 101, Part 1 pp. 70-76.

McDougall, W. A. (2015) Geography, History and True Education Research in Geographic Education 17, 1, 10-89.

Morgan, J. (2012) Teaching Secondary Geography as if the Planet Matters. Abingdon: Routledge.

Uhlenwinkel, A., Béneker, T., Bladh, G., Tani, S. and Lambert, D. (2017) GeoCapabilities and Curriculum Leadership: balancing the Priorities of aims-based and knowledge-led Curriculum Thinking in Schools, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 26, 4, 327-341. 

Vernon, E. (2016) The structure of knowledge: does theory matter? Geography, 101, 2, 100-104.

Vernon, E. (2019) Teaching to the epistemic self: ascending and descending the ladder of knowledge, The Curriculum Journal, 31, 1, 27-47.

[1] Aspects republished here with permission and thanks to the Editors Arthur Chapman and Marko Demantowsky

[2] This terminology draws on the British sociologist of education Basil Bernstein (2000) whose theorising on knowledge structures has been influential. School teacher Ester Vernon has explored Bernstein in the context of teaching geography (Vernon , 2016; 2019)




This website contains outcomes and materials arising from the international GeoCapabilities project, seed funded by the NSF in the US, and then by the EU Comenius programme. Despite being described by one prominent US geography educationist as “useless nonsense”, one of the overarching aims of the project has been to focus on the affordances of high-quality geography education in ‘this day and age’, and the significance of thinking geographically.


Geography teacher educators’ identity, roles and professional learning in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world

Dr Emma Rawlings Smith, Department of Education, University of Oxford and Dr Elizabeth Rushton, Institute of Education, University College London

In this blog we discuss a recently published paper in International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education titled ‘Geography teacher educators’ identity, roles and professional learning in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world’, in which we explore the role, identity and professional learning of geography teacher educators, through a subject lens.

Initial teacher education (ITE) systems worldwide have been the subject of significant government review and reform driven by the development of neoliberal discourses, policies and practices across the sector. For teacher educators, this ‘policy turn’ (Cochran-Smith, 2016) has resulted in increased centralisation, the narrowing of ITE curricular and a complex, fragmented and challenging context in which to work. Yet, teacher educators – those who teach teachers through initial or continuing teacher education programmes – are not always recognised for the vital role they play in the sector and the significant impact they have on the quality of teachers entering the profession. 

Critics have argued that current policy reform is de-professionalising and allows the continued reproduction of social inequalities (Dwyer, Willis, & Call, 2020). At the same time, sustainability continues to be absent in teacher education policy in England (Dunlop & Rushton, 2022). We find these aspects troubling when considering the key role of education in creating a socially just and sustainable world (UN, 2021). Teacher educators worldwide continue to work in contexts which are shaped and informed by persistent policy reform and global environmental crises which we argue, combine to create a professional life that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Although, the contribution and identities of teachers, especially geography teachers, to the teaching of climate change and sustainability in formal education has been widely recognised (Rushton, 2021), the important context of teacher education, and geography teacher education, has received far less research attention. Our research study addresses this gap and explores the professional role, identity and professional learning of Geography Teacher Educators (GTEs) based in England. 

A full account of our research study is available in Rawlings Smith and Rushton (2022). Here, we outline the key findings. Drawing on data from an online questionnaire, a practitioner workshop and semi-structured interviews, our findings highlight the diverse nature of a GTE’s role with three broad aspects including a focus on geography; the development of pre-service teachers’ pedagogy; and provision of pastoral support. During interview, participants placed emphasis on the subject specialist element of their work – this was a thread running through their professional life – and they wanted to support pre-service teachers to build their own relationship with geography during ITE. They also emphasised the importance of pastoral care, compassion and kindness as teacher education is a challenging and intense period of professional transition and development for pre-service teachers. In terms of knowledge, GTEs articulated the importance of having secure and substantive geographical knowledge; knowledge of teaching school geography; and engagement with geography education. 

Drawing on diverse experiences and expertise, GTEs discussed the broader aims of education and how their role allowed them to promote social and environmental justice. Maintaining subject knowledge was seen as important but knowing where to source this was not always obvious. The forms of professional development GTEs recognised as key to their professional growth included engaging with research; professional learning within and beyond their institution; and being a member of the wider GTE community. With an appreciation of the serendipitous nature of professional learning activities, participants recognised the importance of the GTE community as a source and conduit for ongoing professional development.

Ahead of concluding this blog, we would like to invite readers to consider the following two questions:

  1. How can a geographical lens support new understandings of teacher education in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world? 
  2. Is there the will from teacher educators and policy makers to make social justice and sustainability more visible in teacher education policy in England?

In the time taken to complete and publish this research study, the context of ITE in England has significantly changed. Following policy reform, a Market Review and ITE reaccreditation process has seen long-established and highly regarded providers of ITE lose their accreditation for 2024, meaning parts of the country will have teacher supply cold spots (DfE, 2021; Adams, 2022). This VUCA context has affected everyone across the sector and has impacted the professional roles and identities of teacher educators, felt more acutely by those whose jobs may no longer exist in 2024. This reduction in provision seems illogical when the government want schools to be increasingly research-informed (Rawlings Smith, 2022) and counterproductive particularly amid a teacher recruitment crisis, for example postgraduate teacher recruitment was 29% below target in 2022/23 (DfE, 2022). 

Teacher education is a multi-faceted partnership involving schools, universities, policy makers, subject associations, professional bodies, unions and local communities to name but a few. We argue that teacher educators, and especially geography teacher educators, have a responsibility to work together to question and bravely challenge policy making which limits our capacity to leverage our professional roles to enable a socially and environmentally just future for all. There are many ways in which such questioning and challenge can occur, and we encourage that challenge to be constructive and collective. For example, active membership of professional bodies and subject associations and sharing perspectives and inviting future conversation and collaboration through blogs which are widely accessible are two possible ways. The VUCA context of teacher education in England can make engaging with policy change all the more challenging however, teacher educator communities of practice provide a vital space for this to continue. 


Adams, R. (2022). Teacher shortage could worsen after DfE rejects dozens of training courses, The Guardian Accessed 10 December 2022.

Cochran-Smith, C. (2016). Teaching and teacher education: Absence and presence in AERA presidential addresses. Educational Researcher, 45(2), 92–99.

Department for Education (DfE). (2021). Initial teacher training (ITT): Accreditation. London: HM Government. Accessed 12 December 2022.

Department of Education. (DfE) (2022). Postgraduate initial teacher training targets. London: HM Government. Accessed 12 December 2022.

Dunlop, L., & Rushton, E. A. C. (2022). Putting climate change at the heart of education: Is England’s strategy a placebo for policy? British Educational Research Journal

Dwyer, R., Willis, A., & Call, K. (2020). Teacher educators speaking up: Illuminating stories stifled by the iron-grip regulation of initial teacher education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 48(5), 572–585.

Rawlings Smith, E. (2022). Breaking the theory-practice relationship: why decoupling universities from ITE would be illogical, CollectivED working papers, Leeds Beckett University.

Rawlings Smith, E., & Rushton, E.A.C. (2022). Geography teacher educators’ identity, roles and professional learning in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education.

Rushton, E. A. C. (2021). Building Teacher Identity in Environmental and Sustainability Education: The Perspectives of Preservice Secondary School Geography Teachers. Sustainability, 13(9), 5321.

United Nations (UN) (2021). Climate Change Conference: Co-chairs conclusions of education and environment ministers’ summit at COP26 s-conclusions-of-education-and-environment-ministers-summit-at-cop26/Accessed 12 December 2022.