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.


What is needed for a hopeful school geography?

Dr David Mitchell (UCL / IoE)

In this blog post I first reflect on the extraordinary summer of 2022 and coming out of the pandemic, with a geographical perspective. Then, I raise some questions around geography education’s role in the challenge of the Anthropocene, drawing on some projects I am involved in. I argue here that exploring the relationship of knowledge and values, including by geographers collaborating with other subject specialists, can help develop a curriculum for hopeful futures, without diminishing the distinctive power of geography. 

Early one morning at the height of the heatwave this summer, I woke to find a fox in my bedroom. Emboldened by the scarcity of food and water in parched suburban England, it had come in through an open door and chased my cat up the stairs. It gave me quite a shock! It struck me that this was another signal of climate change. If we make a few connections, it is hard to ignore. Here was climate change announcing itself, coming up to bite me (almost literally). The small local signs keep coming – a poisonous spider on my garden fence (the false widow – an invasive species), trees dropping their leaves in August, England at over 40 degrees. Summer 2022’s weather extremes are no joke for those struggling to live with forest fires in southern Europe, floods in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa. Recent months seem like a wake-up call to the speed and seriousness of climate change. 

Most people can probably think of an example of how ‘nature’ has recently changed to impinge on their lives, but they may not make the connection to climate change and the Anthropocene. Geography education helps here, through concepts of interconnection and environment. Covid 19 is another case in point. The virus mutated, jumping to people partly because development pushing into the fringes of wild, forest areas has put pressure on these ecosystems, encouraging viruses to move beyond their usual zoological pools and into humans.

An interesting geographical connection between climate crisis and Covid 19, which I do not think is often made, is about taking action. The climate crisis demands swift, collaborative action to decarbonise the global economy. A few encouraging examples can be found – for instance, this summer, Germany’s €9 ticket scheme which gave a month’s unlimited public transport across cities, significantly reducing car use, and the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) committing the USA to serious investment in renewable energy infrastructure. But overall, change is slow and limited, even as tipping points are approaching. It can seem that, in democracies, it is just too much to expect people to stand for the disruption needed, for example in the form of taxation to fund a dramatic overhaul of energy, transport and housing infrastructure, perhaps even measures to limit individual freedoms to consume as we choose. And yet when a more immediate fear of a killer disease (covid 19) is brought into the mix, people in those same democracies willingly obey orders to stay at home for months at a time, home-schooling their children, not visiting elderly relatives. 

Covid 19 has shown that, in democracies as well as autocracies, governments can act fast, show leadership in the face of environmental crisis, and collaborate across the world. Why is such leadership not forthcoming with the climate crisis? Perhaps it is the super-complexity of climate change, a wicked problem and a ‘hyper-object’ – vast, well known, and ever-present, yet defying perception (see Morton, 2014). Like the fable of the frog in the cauldron (it dies because it doesn’t notice the water gradually heating) the problem is that creeping change is harder to grasp than a sudden event. 

Geographical concepts help us to make connections between events and places, to find patterns and make sense of our lives on the earth. In this way, geographical education is about developing knowledge and understanding of the present. Geography’s contribution to education is also about the future, which depends on how knowledge and understanding is used – the choices made. This is not just about conceptual knowledge, but (as I have alluded to in my introduction) it includes viewpoints, attitudes, and values, often developed by debate. The work for geography educators and teachers is daunting. Eco-anxiety is on the rise, teacher recruitment and retention are in crisis, and teachers struggle to balance teaching about global issues accurately, without provoking a sense of despair. Here I want to explore some issues this raises for geography education, by posing four questions:

In education for the Anthropocene,

  1. What does it mean to have geographic capabilities?
  2. How should geography education handle the relationship between knowledge and values?
  3. Should subject teachers collaborate more across subjects?
  4. (in conclusion) What ‘levers’ could be used to develop curricula and pedagogies?

I offer some brief reflections on each question, here:

1.         What does it mean to have ‘geographic capabilities’?

The GeoCapabilities project has developed some very useful conceptual tools for teachers. It has brought theories of curriculum, curriculum-making, collaborative teacher-led curriculum development, powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK) and powerful pedagogies together. I think its most significant contribution has been to help geography teachers and educators to articulate why teaching geography matters. It does so by the idea that some geographical knowledge (thinking geographically, with concepts) is essential for people to be able to make choices that enable them to live a life they value. GeoCapabilities thus articulates a connection between learning geography and human development – and not just in the narrow instrumental sense (of skills or qualifications leading to a job).

However, knowledge capabilities as individual freedoms raise questions about how other people, and other living things are considered in human development. Nussbaum’s (2011) list of capabilities requires more than knowledge. Her list involves capabilities for affiliation, forming attachments, care and loving relationships, and to engage politically. Geography teachers know that a great geography lesson often involves debate, different viewpoints and the chance to apply and explore the implications of geographical knowledge for people’s choices, as well as for more powerful decision-makers. GeoCapabilities remains a very helpful heuristic, but perhaps the next step in the project could be to explore further, the relationship between geographical knowledge and the values/ ethical dimension informing how that knowledge is used. This resonates with the OECD global competencies (2018) which connects knowledge, values, attitudes and skills, for understanding, engagement and action for sustainable development…This brings me to the second question:

2.         How should geography education handle the relationship between knowledge and values?

I have been lucky enough to have been involved in a collaboration of three universities (UCL, Karlstadt and Helsinki) exploring subject specific teaching and teacher education in various subjects. The group, called the KOSS network, has been exploring the educational contribution of disciplinary knowledge using notions of ‘powerful disciplinary knowledge’ (PDK) (see Young and Muller, 2010) and ‘epistemic quality’ (Hudson et al, 2022). Working with the KOSS network has led me to ask – is the knowledge focus, under-playing the role of values in curriculum? If disciplinary knowledge is powerful in enabling new ways of thinking about the world, how do values, the ethical and the political shape the use of that power? From this we can pose the question, how should subject teaching engage with values, the ethical and the political as young people make sense of the knowledge they are taught?

These questions led Religious Education (RE) educator, Alexis Stones, and I to explore this further together, in the context of the Anthropocene and the turbulent, uncertain times we are in. We have written a paper in which we unpack the relationships between curriculum, disciplinary knowledge, values, and ethical perspectives. We make the case for repositioning values and ethics as central to understanding how curriculum knowledge can be educationally powerful (Mitchell and Stones, 2022). Our thinking is informed by the notion of knowledge capabilities. The GeoCapabilities project, phase 3, explores the teaching of migration with a capabilities lens, showing how disciplinary knowledge (the geography of migration) and emotions, values and ethics were woven together (Mitchell, 2022). For example, in thinking about human rights, the morality of refugee treatment, inequalities and injustices around migrant movements and so forth. It also brought to light how knowledge capabilities around an issue or debate (like migration) cannot be contained by one discipline or school subject. Understanding migration for instance, requires some historical knowledge. More widely, students making sense of concepts such as the Anthropocene and sustainability requires history, as well as notions of stewardship, care, meanings of life and different worldviews, including marginalised indigenous voices – concepts developed in RE. 

There is already a well-developed field of literature in values education, including in school geography (see Slater, 1996 and Mitchell, 2018). The field of education for sustainable development is another huge field. Both fields remind us that different political/philosophical positions towards potential futures mean a once-and-for-all school geography stance toward global issues is neither possible, nor desirable, and so the ongoing debate is necessary. However, my point here is about the idea of ‘powerful disciplinary knowledge’ (PDK). It is very important that teachers are educated and updated with knowledge from the discipline. Take the topic of development, for example. Rostow’s model portrays development as linear, about growth and ‘maturity’) it is an elegant theory and persistent in school geography – but also misleading and dated. It should be explored by students, but also challenged and complemented by theories of core-periphery, dependency, neo-colonialism, sustainable development, human capabilities and post-development ideas. 

Such knowledge supports a curriculum of engagement, and a sense of possibility which challenges narratives of despair. David Alcock’s arguments about hopeful geography (2019) and Hans Rosling’s foregrounding positive human development data (2019) are relevant here. But there are different versions of truth, different lenses to be applied which combine values positions with knowledge. Different stories of future societies and environment can be told. We receive a stream of bad news in the media, not always, but in general, stories of human suffering, cruelty and brutality are amplified by the news, reinforcing a narrative that people are inherently self-centred and greedy. But this is a distorted view of people and the world. The story can change, and with it the belief of what is possible in the future. There is much evidence that people are overwhelmingly kind, compassionate and social (see Monbiot, 2018 and Bregman, 2020). So, PDK is important, but there are different knowledges, and they should be explored through values to get as close as possible to truth about people and planet.

3.         Should subject teachers collaborate more across subjects?

Many important, issue-based geographical topics like migration, climate change, energy, geopolitics, and development, can neither be ‘known’ nor the implications of that knowledge explored (through discussion about possible futures, solutions, actions needed and so forth) without a range of disciplinary lenses. Understanding climate change and the Anthropocene, for example, benefits from using atmospheric chemistry and physics to understand the greenhouse effect, mathematics to calculate and extrapolate changes, history to understand industrial change and mercantilism, RE to explore care and stewardship, economics to understand scarcity, resource pressures and cost-benefit, citizenship to explore rights and responsibilities, English, art and music to explore different narratives, emotional and expressive responses to the changing world. Taking just geography and history, it is hard to disentangle one from the other in some of the most significant work to understand society and environment, for example Harari’s sweeping and exploratory writing (2011) is a story of human history but also how people’s relationship with the earth has come to be and might be in the future. Another is Malm’s analysis of ‘fossil capitalism’ and the roots of global warming (2016) which blends historical and geographical lenses.  Both disciplines deal with change, both need to understand past events to understand the present and both offer ways to approach the future.

Taking this a step further, we can ask, what human attributes (or ‘capabilities’ in a broad sense) does society need to deal with climate change and its environmental, social, and economic challenge? I suggest some are:

  • science, logic, calculation, and precision
  • empathy, ethics, and care for others
  • political literacy and social understanding
  • creativity, imagination, and vision
  • cultural awareness and a long historical view
  • a sense of scale and how people and nature connect at different levels
  • new stories to be written and old ones challenged.  

Many different types of knowledge, skills and values are needed, and these come from a wide range of subject disciplines. 

Such knowledge, skills and values can be learned separately, through discrete subjects, but making connections across subjects is powerful. For me, one way geography is interesting and meaningful, is by putting the concepts, ideas, and techniques of other subjects to use in real world contexts. I am not advocating for collapsing subject boundaries here, but for finding ways for subject teachers to talk together and collaborate to develop their curricula. This is what we have begun to do in UCL’s ‘sustainability across subjects’ project (SAS, 2022) with trainee subject teachers. We borrowed the GeoCapabilities principle of applying a disciplinary lens to texts, images, and discussions about ‘the Anthropocene’, in collaborative student teacher groups. The difference to GeoCapabilities being that the disciplinary lenses are not just geography but a wide range of school subjects. 

In the SAS project so far, we have found that teachers value the collaboration and reflection across subjects. We suspect that this collaboration develops both better understanding of how other subjects think about sustainability, and clearer understanding off their own subject’s contribution (though we do not yet have this evidence). We have also found there are substantial barriers to cross-subject collaboration for teaching about and for sustainability, including teachers feeling under constant pressure, accountability for exam results, feeling that (in most schools) education for sustainability is not taken seriously and secondary PGCE being (currently) quite siloed into subjects. 

At UCL-IOE we are exploring ways to support greater collaborative work across subjects, including through the new Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (CCCSE 2022). This will include developing research informed professional development courses and materials to be made freely available to teachers. Some of these will be aimed at specific subject teachers, but also, they will cross subject boundaries. I believe this will not diminish the PDK of subjects but will only enhance it. This is because, by carefully exploring their own subject’s disciplinary structure in relation to other subjects, teachers are pushed to articulate their distinctive contribution to education for sustainability.

Conclusion – What ‘levers’ could be used to develop geography curricula and pedagogies?

In this blog piece, I have raised some questions which I hope will encourage debate about how school geography can evolve to continue making an important contribution to education. I see this as a hopeful school geography, in which teachers and students alike find satisfaction and an excitement about the future. But what can support this evolution? Oates (2011) explored the levers controlling school curriculums (what gets taught and how), including national curriculum requirements, exam boards, inspection and accountability measures, funding, teacher training and professional development. When (and if) these are aligned to pull in the same direction ‘curriculum coherence’ (ibid) makes for high performing education systems. The trick, I believe, is to make sure the epistemic quality (see Hudson et al, 2022) of subjects inputting to these factors is also high, for the most powerful, engaging and rewarding school geography teaching.

I want to conclude by considering just one lever for change here – the Geographical Association’s (GA), forthcoming curriculum framework. This project, led by Eleanor Rawling with a steering group, has been developed with advisory input from teachers, academic geographers, and educators. I had the privilege of being part of initial steering group discussions. Currently in draft form, it is to be trialled with various groups before being published online in 2023. The framework is not a model school curriculum or list of content, rather it helps to understand how the discipline of geography should inform how a school geography curriculum is developed. The framework’s stated purposes are:

‘…to identify key concepts, significant features and distinctive approaches of the discipline of geography; to highlight how these features can contribute to the education of young people; and to clarify how this should inform the development of the school curriculum at national level.’ (GA, 2022: 1)

The framework is intended to be used at a range of levels from national, including government departments, to sub-national level, by awarding organisations, publishers, and subject organisations (including the GA and RGS-IBG) geography educators and Multi-Academy Trust geography leaders for instance, and at local level, by individual schools and teachers. The framework offers a clear and forward-looking way to think about geographical knowledge by breaking it into three areas of: ‘geographical key concepts’ (thinking like a geographer); ‘geographical practice’ (how geographers find out); and ‘geographical application’ (how geographers make use of geography). 

The second and third categories particularly, show the inescapable connection between knowledge and values. The description of ‘geographical practice’ includes:

‘…recognition of the values and moral/ethical dimensions involved in any enquiry and development of one’s own moral and ethical stance.’

The ethical dimension is also implied as part of geographical application, described as:

‘…applying knowledge, understanding and skills to real world challenges and issues – living peacefully and productively with others and ensuring our future on the planet.’ (GA, 2022: 3)

I believe the GA’s framework is a key moment in the evolution in the geographical knowledge debate, by encouraging the connection of knowledge and values in curriculum thinking. If used well, it is a significant way to leverage geography curriculum development. For both students and teachers, this can help revitalise school geography toward a curriculum of engagement and hopeful futures.


For their support and collaborative work in developing the ideas I draw on in this blog piece, I am most grateful to Alexis Stones, members of the KOSS network, the GeoCapabilities3 project team and the GA curriculum framework steering group.

References and weblinks

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

Bregman, R. (2020). Humankind: A hopeful history. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

CCCSE (2022)

Geographical Association (2022) A Framework for the School Geography Curriculum (draft version not yet published) 

Harari, Y. (2011) Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind. London: Vintage

Hudson, B., Gericke, N., Olin-Scheller, C. and Stolare, M. (eds) (2022) International Perspectives on Knowledge and Quality Implications for Innovation in Teacher Education Policy and Practice: Reinventing teacher education. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Malm, A. (2016). Fossil capital: The rise of steam power and the roots of global warming. London: Verso Books.

Mitchell, D. (2018) ‘Handling controversial issues in geography’ in D. Lambert and M. Jones (eds.) Debates in Geography Education, Second Edition. Abingdon: Routledge.

Mitchell, D. (2022) ‘GeoCapabilities 3 –Knowledge and Values in Education for the Anthropocene’. International Review of Geography and Environmental Education. Available online 

Mitchell, D. and Stones, A. (2022) ‘Disciplinary knowledge for what ends? The values dimension of curriculum research in the Anthropocene’. London Review of Education, 20 (1), 23.

Monbiot, G. (2018) Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. London: Verso

Morton, T. (2014) Hyperobjects: philosophy and ecology after the end of the world. Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.

Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Oates, T. (2011): ‘Could do better: using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England’. Curriculum Journal, 22 (2), 121-150.

OECD (2018)

Rosling, H. (2019). Factfulness. Paris: Flammarion.

SAS (2022)

Slater, F. (1996) ‘Values: Toward mapping their locations in a geography education’, in A. Kent, D. Lambert, M. Naish and F. Slater (eds) Geography in education: Viewpoints on teaching and learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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

GEReCo Research

Dialogue in Climate Engineering with Youth, or ‘DICEY’

A new project funded as part of the UKRI / Royal Society of Arts ‘Rethinking Public Dialogue’ series.

Dr Elizabeth Rushton (University College London’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education) and Dr Lynda Dunlop (University of York)

In September 2022, the Royal Society of Arts and UKRI announced a series of nine projects to be funded over the next year focused on ‘Rethinking Public Dialogue’. One of these projects is ‘DICEY’ – Dialogue in Climate Engineering with Youth, co-led by Lynda Dunlop and Lizzie Rushton. DICEY is an innovative approach to public dialogue on emergent science and policy on climate interventions, focusing on question creation. As such, this project sits at the interface of geography and science and also draws on approaches and understanding from geography education and science education. DICEY’s participatory and collaborative approach  involves online workshops with under-represented publics (youth, aged 16-24), scientists, policy-makers and artists. Dialogue will result in the production of artist-illustrated ‘climate questions’ cards, to stimulate further online public dialogue. DICEY is intended to be inclusive and intergenerational, involving reciprocal relationships with participants, and inverting norms to make scientists and policy-makers the ‘public’ for youth questions.  

DICEY builds upon existing research on dialogue in climate interventions and is set against the context in which young people report feelings of betrayal and anxiety associated with beliefs about inadequate government response to climate change (Hickman et al., 2021). In the context of climate interventions, the dominant approach to researching public engagement to date has been to ask participants (typically, adults) to appraise the acceptability of different proposals, often involving presentations by researchers ‘close to the science’. This presents a particular challenge for new technologies because public awareness tends to be low (Scheer & Renn, 2014), and so there has been a move towards deliberative approaches which introduce new ideas to various publics. Challenges associated with these approaches include deferral to scientific authority, even on non-scientific questions, and problematic framings (Corner & Pidgeon, 2015), for example natural framings (such as comparisons with volcanic eruptions) or those which favour fast-acting and impactful climate interventions (Mahajan, Tingley & Wagner, 2019). Dialogue is often structured around specific techniques with little consideration of alternative (social, political, economic) responses to climate change. Attempts have been made to respond to these challenges (cf. Bellamy et al., 2014) through a reduced role for scientists and the use of tentative language to design interventions. DICEY, in contrast, fully involves scientists and policy-makers in a different capacity – as accountable to youth questions and concerns – through public switching – and builds youth capacity to participate in dialogue. DICEY puts youth in the position of identifying their priorities, articulating concerns and creating questions for those who are in positions of influence – and engaging scientists and policy-makers directly with these questions. This mitigates impacts of issue framing and the presence of scientific authorities and allows youth to frame issues in ways relevant to them.

DICEY builds on Lynda and Lizzie’s previous work, ‘Geoengineering: a climate of uncertainty?’ where, through a series of online workshops, they engaged youth (18-25 years) from across Europe in the scientific, ethical, social and political dimensions of climate intervention, resulting in the co-authorship of a policy brief and academic articles (Dunlop et al., 2021; 2022). This project forms an important baseline for DICEY, and the principles of reciprocity, co-authorship, questioning and dialogue, have been incorporated into the design of DICEY. Although ‘climate of uncertainty?’ was dialogic in its methods, the team is not involved in science or policy-making in geoengineering. DICEY makes this connection between youth, scientists and policy-makers.   

Workshops with youth (16-24 years) will take place in late 2022, with a second phase of workshops with policy-makers and scientists in early 2023. If you would like to be involved in either series of workshops or would like to find out more about the project, please do get in touch with Lizzie ( or Lynda ( or follow us on Twitter – @RushtonDr and @UYSEG. More information about the full series of projects can be found at @theRSAorg 


Bellamy, R., Chilvers, J., & Vaughan, N. E. (2014). Deliberative mapping of options for tackling climate change: Citizens and specialists ‘open up’ appraisal of geoengineering. Public Understanding of Science, 25(3), 269–286.

Corner, A., Parkhill, K., Pigeon, N., & Vaughan, N. E. (2013). Messing with nature? Exploring public perceptions of geoengineering in the UK. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 938–947.

Dunlop, L., Rushton, E.A.C., Atkinson, L., Blake, C., Calvert, S., Cornelissen, E., Dècle, C.M.M., De Schriver, J., Dhassi, K.K., Edwards, R.P.R., Malaj, G., Mirjanić, J., Saunders, W.E.H., Sinkovec, Y., Stadnyk, T., Štofan, J., Stubbs, J.E., Su, C., Turkenburg-van Diepen, M., Vellekoop, S., Veneu, F. and Yuan, X. (2021). An introduction to the co-creation of policy briefs with youth and academic teams. Journal of Geography in Higher Education

Dunlop, L., Rushton, E.A.C., Atkinson, L., Blake, C., Calvert, S., Cornelissen, E., Dècle, C.M.M., De Schriver, J., Dhassi, K.K., Edwards, R.P.R., Malaj, G., Mirjanić, J., Saunders, W.E.H., Sinkovec, Y., Stadnyk, T., Štofan, J., Stubbs, J.E., Su, C., Turkenburg-van Diepen, M., Vellekoop, S., Veneu, F. and Yuan, X. (2022). Youth co-authorship as public engagement with geoengineering. International Journal of Science Education (Part B).

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., … & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12), e863-e873.

Mahajan, A., Tingley, D., & Wagner, G. (2019). Fast, cheap, and imperfect? US public opinion about solar geoengineering. Environmental Politics, 28(3), 523–543.

Scheer, D., & Renn, O. (2014). Public perception of geoengineering and its consequences for public debate. Climatic Change, 125(3), 305–318.

Annual Seminar GEReCo

Teaching and Learning about the Anthropocene

Watch the recording of the GEReCo / UK IGU-CGE open forum that was held online on 21st June 2022.

This GEReCo open forum engaged with the concept of the Anthropocene and considered ways in which it might be applied in school geography. Noel Castree summarised the scientific origins and evolution of the concept (Revkin, 2016), and then identify key themes and implications for geographers. The presentation raised questions about what is taught in school geography and how.

Cyrus Nayeri and Hina Robinson then responded by considering how engagement with environmental issues can emerge in the school classroom and some practical steps teachers can take, including ways to use art and student voice. The event finished with a Q&A with the three panellists.

Noel Castree is Professor of Society & Environment at the University of Technology Sydney (Australia) and Professor of Geography at Manchester University.

Cyrus Nayeri is Head of Geography at Dulwich College and Course Director (acting) for the Geography PGCE course at King’s College London.

Hina Robinson is a geography teacher and Diversity lead at Southend High School for Girls. She is also a member of the Geographical Association governing body and joint chair of its diversity and inclusion working group.

GEReCo Summer Webinar 2022


Revkin, A. (2016) ‘An Anthropocene journey’, Anthropocene Magazine, Issue 1.

Nayeri, C. (2021) Teaching geography in the Anthropocene, Teaching Geography, 46(2), 50-52.


Mentoring and the ‘production of space’: Research, practice and geographical futures

Lauren Hammond, Grace Healy, Steve Puttick and Nicola Walshe

Mentoring matters in, and for, geography education. Mentoring is critically important for inducting teachers of geography into teaching as a profession, and more broadly into the schools and communities that they serve. Mentoring is also invaluable for supporting the progression and development of experienced teachers, researchers and teacher educators throughout their careers. In our forthcoming (February 2022) edited collection Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School a wide range of geography educators – working in a variety of different settings – come together to explore mentoring (Healy et al., 2022). In this blog we have distilled their insights to offer a summary of arguments developed further in the book. We begin by critically examining the relationship between mentoring and the ‘production of space’, before exploring the relationships between geography and sustainability to consider the potential of mentoring for producing more just and inclusive futures in, and through, geography education.

Since we submitted this book for publication, the socio-political landscape of teacher education in England – the national policy context in which we all work – continues to be a space of contestation and debate. In Taylor and Healy’s (2021, n.p.) words, ‘teacher education has been shaped by neo-liberal political agendas that dispute the role of the university within the knowledge base for teaching, while supporting the advancement of the private sector within a teacher education ‘market’’. The recent Market Review of ITT (DfE, 2021) has resulted in significant concerns being raised about the role of the state in (decision-making about) Initial Teacher Education (ITE), including  – but not limited to – the role of disciplines (e.g., geography or history) in ITE (Hardman, 2021). For example, in their response to the Market Review consultation, the Geographical Association (2021) express that they are:

concerned by the level of prescription and limits to academic agency within the report’s recommendations, which risk undermining a critically-engaged professional ITE environment that allows for subject/phase-specific development of geography teachers. Longer-term, this would have significant implications for the status and professionalism of geography teaching.

Concerns raised by the Geographical Association and others across the sector (see for example, CCT, 2021; NASBTT, 2021; UCET, 2021) build upon pre-existing concerns about ITE policy. Particularly that the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) (DfE, 2019) is framed by selective reading of a narrow research base which has the potential to remove prospective teachers of geography from the ‘reservoirs’ (Bernstein, 2000) of knowledge and expertise that exist in, and are supported by, disciplines in universities. Put another way, they contribute to what Taylor and Healy (2021, n.p.) term a space of ‘deeply contested policy-making’, with some universities considering the ethical and professional implications of continuing to support teacher education in this landscape (see for example, responses from UCL, 2021; University of Oxford, 2021). 

Stepping back from the particular challenges facing ITE in England, Morgan (2022) situates ITE amid fundamental intersecting crises facing the Earth as our shared home. These crises include, but are not limited to, the CV-19 pandemic, anthropogenically induced ecological and climate crises, and systemic and everyday injustices faced by people in different spaces because of their intersectional identities. Here, active consideration of the affective and embodied nature of community, and the disciplines of geography and education (and the relationships between them) is of critical importance.

Community in geography education is multifaceted, and we use it to foreground:  the communities we work within and serve (hooks, 2003); the colleagues we work with in schools, universities, or other educational spaces; and the disciplinary communities we draw upon and contribute to (Kinder, 2022). These communities enable us – in different ways and at different times – to: seek support; to engage in critical discussion, practitioner inquiry and research; to challenge one-another’s thinking and (potentially) to develop shared philosophies and practices; and to advocate for change where needed. Mentoring in geography education has a vital role in introducing beginning teachers to these communities, nurturing professional development, and in collectively addressing global, and local, challenges in, and through, geography education.

We draw upon Lefebvre’s (1991) work on the ‘production of space’ to frame our examination of mentoring. This is because ‘social space is a social product’ (p.26), and through mentoring and teaching mentors actively (re)produce the kinds of futures they want for their students, their mentees and for the world. Applied to geography education, the production of space offers a valuable and ambitious view of mentors’ agency: 

Freedom and liberatory politics cannot be pursued, we may conclude, without active human agents individually or collectively producing new spaces and spatio-temporalities, making and remaking places materially as well as in a different image, and producing a new second nature and thereby revolutionising their socio-ecological and environmental relations.

(Harvey 2009, p.259)


Mentors can, and do, shape presents and futures as agents in communities and the world. Through actively engaging with different ideas and theories about geography and education, teachers of geography become more informed in their practice and thinking about the presents and futures they want to shape in, and through, education. These are ambitious aims, and involve active consideration of the relationships between mentoring and geographical futures.

Framing his chapter around the question ‘what sort of mentoring for what sort of geography education?’ Morgan argues that ‘there is an urgent need for mentors to engage colleagues in sustained conversations about the theory and practice of geography education’ (Morgan, 2022, p.46). This profound question recognises the significance of mentoring to teachers’ professional growth and well-being, and also offers a typology of ways in which mentoring might be conceptualised and understood. This typology (Table one) offers mentors a way to critically consider the nature of their mentoring and the possible impacts on the mentee, and more widely on geography education and the children and young people they teach. 

Type of mentor/ingWhat is this mentor/ing like?
Evidence-based learningFocussed on effective geography teaching, and demonstrable results. Risks ignoring profound and underpinning questions about the purpose of (geographical) education.
Reflective knowledgeThe teacher is central – with the beginning teacher encouraged to critically reflect upon their teaching, and to make changes based on their reflections. Risks knowledge and debate  about geography education being sidelined. 
Teachers as activistsDraws on radical and progressive ideals about education, and positions the school as a site of social change, with the teacher positioned as a transformative intellectual.
The knowledge-focussed mentorFocussed on the debates about the place of, and politics around, the ‘place’ of knowledge in schooling.
The networked teacher-mentorIdentities are shaped, and teaching informed, through social networks and negotiations.
Table one: Adapted version of Morgan’s (2022) typology of mentoring for geography teachers

As we argue when concluding the book, Morgan’s question and typology is beneficial to supporting mentors in truly engaging with the question ‘what kinds of futures do you hope your mentoring will produce?’ (Hammond et al., 2022). We argue that this question allows mentors to take a metaphorical step-back from their practice, and to consider how the ideas of justice, agency and voice can be used by mentors to support and inform their practice. Here, we propose that by actively considering justice in, and for, geography education, mentors and beginning teachers can be supported in (re)producing more just educational spaces and systems. For example, in challenging injustices, othering and exclusionary practices to enable and empower teachers of geography both in their everyday work and also their development as professionals. This includes actively considering how people and places are represented in curricula and teaching, and empowering students through pedagogy. It also involves actively considering barriers teachers of geography might face – including those related to their identities when engaging with ‘communities of practice’ (Lave and Wegner, 1991), and ultimately in achieving their career aspirations.

Another important future envisioned by chapter authors in the book concerns sustainability, for ‘one is born into history, one isn’t born into a void’ (Brand, 2001, p.82 quoted in Yusoff, 2018, p.27). The revision of the geography National Curriculum presented in the 2014 Programme of Study for Key Stage 3 (DfE, 2014) removed sustainable development and climate change from the Geography National Curriculum in England. Whilst not all schools are legally obliged to follow the national curriculum, and teachers conceptualised as ‘curriculum makers’ (Lambert and Morgan, 2010) exert their agency as they navigate decisions about what to teach – the national curriculum is important. For example, affecting; the content of published teaching resources and the focus of accountability regimes; how geography is taught; assessment foci and processes; and also potentially areas of focus during ITE.

Current curriculum policy is one aspect of the time-space in which we exist. There is certainly no curriculum void! For us, a key role of mentoring is empowering beginning teachers to critically engage with what to teach and their representation of the world and the people who call it home (Ahmed et al., 2022). In the present time-space, this includes active consideration of how they teach children about the intersecting crises facing the Earth, and how we might empower children as active agents in their own lives, communities and the world. As Healy and Walshe (2022) argue, mentors can become more intentional as they navigate the professional landscape that shapes their mentoring, becoming policy actors (rather than policy subjects). 

Whilst Healy and Walshe (2022) focus on critical engagement with educational policy that conceptualises and affects the practice of mentoring, in this blog we now shine a light on the intentionality of critical engagement with a more complex and wide-reaching set of policy, including geography curriculum discourse and policies concerning the future of the Earth. Combined with active scholarship, this is fundamental to ensuring beginning geography teachers are better placed to question the decisions that others have made when they engage with curriculum policies, debates and textbooks (Healy, 2022). For example, by drawing on the work of Haraway (2016) beginning teachers can support students in (re)examining the relationships between people and the Earth. As Haraway contends, ‘human beings are with and of the earth, and the other biotic and abiotic powers of the earth are the main story’, with how human beings live and die matters, not just to other people, but ‘also to the many critters across taxa which and whom we have subjected to exterminations, extinctions, genocides, and prospects of futurelessness’ (p.59). Drawing on Haraway’s work can support children in thinking about their connections to the Earth, and the decisions they make in their lives and futures.

In conclusion…

In this blog, we have examined how mentoring in geography can (re)produce spaces, practices and systems to help co-create more just communities and tomorrows for mentees. Through the example of sustainability, we have considered how through scholarship and moves to act as ‘policy actors’ mentors can also support beginning teachers in navigating the complexities of teaching geography in ways that critically engage with policy at a range of scales. We are conscious that these are highly ambitious aims, and we hope that the wide ranging, questioning and provocative contributions in Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School makes connections between the practical challenges facing mentors and the reservoirs of vibrant geographical thought that might inspire more expansive and hopeful futures. We have argued these futures ought to foreground concern with sustainability in ways that critically engage with intersectional injustices and contribute to geography’s essential contribution to education in the 21st century.   

Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School will be published on 28th February 2022 and you can read more about the book here:


Ahmed, F. Hammond, L. Nichols, S-A. Puttick, S. and Searle, A. (2022) Planning in geography education: A conversation between university-based tutors and school-based mentors in Initial Teacher Education. G. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.156-172.

Bernstein, B. (2000) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

CCT. (2021) Chartered College of Teaching Comments on ITT Market Review

Department for Education [DfE]. (2014) Geography programmes of study: Key stage 3 national curriculum. London: DfE. Accessed 18.10.21.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2019) ITT Core Content Framework. London: DfE. Accessed 30.12.2021.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2021) Policy Paper: Initial Teacher Training Market Review: Overview. London: DfE. Accessed 08.07.2021.

Geographical Association (GA). (2021) Consultation Response by the Geographical Association: Government consultation on Initial teacher training (ITT) market review recommendations: response from the Geographical Association (August 2021) Accessed 26.09.2021.

Hammond, L. Puttick, S. Walshe, N. and Healy, G. (2022) Mentoring matters: mentoring for a more just tomorrow in geography education. G. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.243-251.

Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the trouble: Anthroposcene, Capitoloscene, Chuthulucene. J. Moore. Eds. Anthroposcene or Capitoloscene? Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. Oakland: PM Press.

Hardman, M. (2021) What does it mean to teach a subject? Not what the ITT Market Review suggests. Accessed 30.12.2021.

Harvey. D. (2009) Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom New York: Columbia University Press.

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

Healy, G. (2022) Geography and geography education scholarship as a mechanism for developing and sustaining mentors’ and beginning teachers’ subject knowledge and curriculum thinkingG. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.187-207.

Healy, G. and Walshe, N. (2022) Navigating the policy landscape: Conceptualising subject specialist mentoring within and beyond mentoring. G. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.187-207.

hooks, b. (2003) Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kinder, A. (2022) Mentoring within the geography subject community. In G. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.102-118.

Lambert, D. and Morgan, J. (2010) Teaching geography 11-18: A conceptual approach. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lefebvre, H. (1991) The production of space (Translated by D. Nicholson-Smith). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Morgan, J. (2022) What sort of mentoring for what sort of geography education?  In G. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.42-56.

NASBTT. (2021) ITT Market Review Final Report and Consultation: NASBTT statement. Accessed 30.12.2021.

Taylor, B. and Healy, G. (2021) London Review of Education Call for Papers: Rising to the challenge of teacher education to prepare teachers for today’s world.

UCET. (2021) DfE consultation on the review of the ITE Market UCET response. Accessed 30.12.2021.

UCL, (2021) IOE responds to the ITT Market Review consultation. Accessed 22.09.2021.

University of Oxford. (2021) Initial Teacher Training Market Review response. Accessed 22.09.2021.

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


Anti-racist Learning and Teaching in School Geography?

Watch the recording of the GEReCo / UK IGU-CGE open forum that was held online on 6th November 2021.

This GEReCo open forum engaged with academic geographers’ work on anti-racism and started to think through the ways in which it might be applied in school geography. Anti-racist learning and teaching in British Geography (Esson and Last, 2020) examines how learning and teaching in UK Higher Education has functioned to reinforce racism, but also has the potential to counteract it. The three panelists facilitated a discussion about the ways in which anti-racist learning and teaching might be realised in school geography.

Dr James Esson, Reader in Human Geography, Loughborough University

Dr Angela Last, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Leicester

Iram Sammar, former school geography teacher, MPhil/PhD student UCL Institute of Education


GEReCo and research priorities

By David Lambert

On publishing its ‘research reviews’, including the one on geography, Ofsted stated that the intention was to “set out the research that has informed our thinking on subject quality”. One of Ofsted’s so-called ‘filters’ in reviewing research was the recognition that “curriculum is different from pedagogy”. In other words, the official watchdog on standards recognises that a key element in judging quality in geography is the curriculum per se, defined as “what teachers teach and when, and what pupils learn”[1]. We go on to read that in its future subject reports, inspectors will judge “the extent to which teaching supports the goals of the subject curriculum.”

Since its inception GEReCo has burned the flame for curriculum focussed scholarship and must continue to do so.

However, it needs to do so with a fierce independence, for what Ofsted means or implies by curriculum may not be entirely consistent with what some of us at least feel is at stake. John Morgan recently outlined this disjuncture in his review of the Ofsted document:[2] because “… the curriculum is seen as an ‘object’ rather than as a ‘problem’, all that is left is to explain how best to organize it, plan for progression, and teach it – hence the overwhelming focus of the Review [is] on pedagogy and assessment.” But the curriculum problem remains, looming like the proverbial elephant in the room: how do teachers justify geography in the school curriculum and what should we teach?

Perhaps we need look no further than the following words to see the significance of John’s point. Ofsted states that “Progress in curricular terms means knowing more and remembering more, so a curriculum needs to carefully plan for that progress by considering the building blocks and sequence in each subject.”

This to me conjures images of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. There are doubtless other metaphors. But merely teaching geography efficiently and effectively to ‘ensure progression’ (which utterly defies precise, technocratic definition anyhow – at least beyond ‘remembering more’) is a woefully inadequate expression of an educational response to contemporary needs and challenges. For instance, how does teaching geography contribute to the education of children and young people in a world where

  • colonial and imperial violence, and the enduring injustices that have followed, are now more widely understood and acknowledged;
  • the climate emergency is causing death, economic mayhem and displacing tens of millions of people across the globe;
  • biodiversity loss, again on a global scale, is already looking cataclysmic;
  • human-nature relations are now so mixed up (partly a result of almost 8 billion people on the planet) that the Covid-19 pandemic is best not thought of as a ‘one-off’?

These are existential threats, not abstract ‘world problems’. They are all present in the here and now. That is, they are experiential. But all are also geographical, or at least have geographical dimensions. Geographers are amongst those contributing new knowledge, perspectives and insights across all of these areas. The school geography curriculum has the enormous challenge of responding to pupils’ lived experiences while at the same time enabling them better to understand these in broader contexts. This is where ‘school subject’ meets ‘discipline’. It is not so much about rewriting the curriculum with better, new or more up to date selections to teach in schools, but more to do with the relationship we have with knowledge and the infrastructure that exist to support teachers in the development of this relationship – and building that relationship to ‘what we know and how we know it’ with pupils too. This is not easy and is nothing less than grappling with the challenges and ambition of Future Three curriculum making[3] – incidentally, the lynchpin of GeoCapabilities[4].

So GEReCo is definitely right in promoting and developing deeper and broader links with the wider discipline (along with the RGS-IBG and GA). But the particular strength of GEReCo must be to examine the school curriculum implications – because of course, as Zongyi Deng[5] points out in his most recent paper, what is taught in school, even under the banner of that frequently misappropriated term ‘powerful knowledge’, is not just influenced by developments in the discipline. He makes a call for continued conceptual research on knowledge, how content selections are made and the role of teachers in curriculum making – in a manner that is not ‘above’ politics but neither is unaware of social, cultural, environmental and political contexts in which we live. It is for example noteworthy the surge of interest in issues of race and racism in society that has followed the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, and a growing number of individuals and groups are now thinking hard about how school geography must respond. It also is a matter of record the step change in popular understanding of the climate emergency and its differential effects around the world, including within the British Isles. Furthermore, Brexit has resulted in a political dynamic that requires recalibration of the UK’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world – which clearly risks the very existence of the UK in its current form.  These are all epochal issues, and it is interesting how reluctant educationist in general seem to be in confronting the question of what appropriate educational responses should be. Guy Claxton’s riveting new read on the ‘future of teaching’[6], for example, barely mentions such issues and neither does Debra Kidd’s ‘curriculum of hope’[7] whilst acknowledging we live in ‘trying times’.

Deng calls for empirical work on the curriculum and in geography this could – should maybe – address those matters alluded to in the previous paragraph. Easier said than done perhaps. But now is surely the time. It might therefore be appropriate for readers to use the comment box to make their own suggestions regarding this call. Comments might then take the form the basis of a further blog post – also taking into account gaps and silences noted in the Ofsted review of research in geography.[8]

[1] All these quoted words are from


[3] Morgan, J., Hoadley, U. and Horden, J. (2019) On the politics and ambition of the ‘turn’: unpacking the relations between Future 1 and Future 3. Curriculum Journal, 30 (2) DOI:10.1080/09585176.2019.1575254


[5] Deng, Z. (2021) Powerful knowledge, transformations and Didaktik/curriculum thinking, British Educational Research Journal  DOI: 10.1002/berj.3748

[6] Claxton, G. (2021) The Future of Teaching – and the myths that hold it back. Abingdon: Routledge.

[7] Kidd, D. (2020) A curriculum of Hope. Independent Thinking Press.


Annual Seminar GEReCo

Progress in Geography?

Watch the recording of the GEReCo / UK IGU-CGE annual seminar that was held online on 30th June 2021 .

About this event

In dialogue with members of the editorial boards from leading journals, including Progress in Physical Geography and Progress in Human Geography, and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, this seminar critically explored ideas about progress in geography.

Karen Anderson, Associate Professor in Remote Sensing, University of Exeter; Associate Editor, Progress in Physical Geography

Tariq Jazeel, Professor of Human Geography, University College London; Editor, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Nina Laurie, Professor of Human Geography, University of St Andrews; Editor, Progress in Human Geography