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


GEReCo: beginnings and future directions

Clare Brooks established Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo) with Graham Butt in 2007, and then chaired GEReCo from 2019 until 2021, leading GEReCo to merge with the UK IGU-CGE (IGU-CGE is the Commission on Geographical Education of the International Geographical Union). Steve Puttick took on the chair of GEReCo in 2021. This blog is a conversation between Clare and Steve, looking back at the beginnings of GEReCo and some of the contributions it has made, then its merger with UK IGU-CGE, and reflections on possible future directions for the collective.

SP: You’ve been part of GEReCo since the very beginning (in 2007) – How would you describe the original impetus that drove you all to set it up?

CB: I vividly remember attending a presentation that Graham did at an IGU-CGE conference in Brisbane (it must have been 2005? 2006?), where he drew upon a range of criticisms of education research generally, and posed some important questions about the quality of education research in geography[1]. I was really taken with his observations, and after his presentation we discussed the “state” of geography education research. About six months after, I was hosting the Geography Teacher Educators conference in London, and suggested to Graham that as many colleagues would be heading to London anyway, why not set up a meeting prior to the Conference to discuss taking a strategic lead on geography education research? That’s what we did. Everyone we invited came, and that was the birth of GEReCo.

I think at the time we had all sorts of ideas: joint research bids, publications, etc; Graham was particularly successful with organising us to write some edited books, and to use these contributions as a basis for some seminar contributions at American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meeting which really put us onto the map in the international scene.

SP: That’s really interesting context – and to what extent do you think it has achieved those aims?

CB: I think that GEReCo has been really successful at raising the profile of geography education research, particularly internationally. I think the ambition to be more strategic in developing a research agenda was much more challenging. We found ourselves in the difficult position of wanting to support individual research projects and ideas, without being too prescriptive as to what research should be done and what shouldn’t. 

In retrospect, I think a major benefit was the opportunity and space for colleagues to talk about the field and what research was taking place across geography education. This certainly helped us to link up and offer support to many other colleagues. In the early days, we started a journal called GeogEd which published papers-in-progress along with their reviews and I think that was a nice idea to support early career researchers to understand the process of writing a paper and getting it published.

SP: Those ideas about linking up and supporting seem really important to these ideas about what GEReCo is, and in Graham Butt’s recent book – Geography Education Research in the UK: Retrospect and Prospect – he mentions the (at that time) probable merger with IGU-CGE. What kinds of things have you been involved with through IGU-CGE? And how do you see this new merged collective adding to what both were already doing?

CB: So the International Geographical Union (IGU), and particularly the Commission for Geography Education (CGE) have a long standing influence on the field and a strong connection with the Institute of Education (IOE). When I first joined the IOE as an academic, I remember Ashley Kent[2] suggesting I attend their conferences both in London and abroad. I started to attend the British Sub-Committee regularly, and eventually took on the role of Honorary Secretary of the IGU-CGE Executive Group, and then chair of both the (renamed) UK Committee and the IGU CGE Executive itself. During that involvement I became aware of a number of things: the research we were discussing in the UK community covered a range of themes and issues which were also of considerable international interest, and that there was so much valuable work going on in the international community, and I think the Brits can sometimes be a bit inward looking. 

I have benefited so much from the international conferences I attended with the IGU, and the wonderful friends and colleagues I made from that group. In the UK Committee we wanted to work in two ways: to ensure that UK work in geography education was represented in international discussions, and also to ensure that the UK community were aware of what was going on elsewhere. I’m really pleased that the new GEReCo has agreed to continue with some of the ways that the UK IGU-CGE Committee sought to do that – for example, through the annual research seminar, and the London conference. I am also really delighted at the way the IGU-CGE are developing ways of reaching out to wider groups: through their newsletter, new website and podcasts, and the Book Series we have with Springer (which I edit with Di Wilmot).

I think the two organisations have very similar values and interests – and that was the primary motivation for bringing them together. Whilst GEReCo were strongly research-focussed, and the IGU is strong internationally-focussed, neither of those things precludes the other – and in fact they are strengthened by coming together. As a member of GEReCo I wanted us to look out as much as we looked in, and as Chair of the IGU-CGE I wanted us to develop and promote geography education research in a strategic way. So for me, the merger was a no-brainer.

I really hope it will mean that many others will have access to the international conferences and professional networks that I have enjoyed, the opportunities to stop and think strategically about research in our field and where it is heading and what it needs, and that we can widen the scope of who gets involved in geography education research and can offer the support they need to produce some really high-quality transformative findings.

SP: These sound like brilliant things! What kinds of contributions do you particularly hope to see GEReCo making to the field of geography education research in the future?

CB: I was going to ask you the same thing!

I think there is a huge amount of potential with the new GEReCo. I am particularly excited at how the group has opened up to geographers interested in education, and researchers who are located in schools. The commitment and interest in geography education is widespread and I am so pleased the GEReCo is aiming to include that wide definition.

But I also feel like one of the elders (hasbeens!) now, and I am more excited about your vision Steve: what do you see GEReCo contributing in the future?

SP: I’ve been enjoying asking you the questions! It’s really interesting to think back over the period of time you’ve described – thank you so much for sharing these insights. There have been many changes over that time, and it’s really encouraging to look back at the contribution that GEReCo has made to geography education research, including some of the really significant publications that have come out through GEReCo and the links and support that have helped to sustain and grow the field. 

I’m really excited about the opportunity to contribute to GEReCo / UK IGU-CGE in a way that continues to deepen the links between colleagues working across geography education research, including teacher educators based in a wide range of settings and academic geographers. I think we’ve got a brilliant annual seminar coming up this summer that will bring together ‘physical’ and ‘human’ geographers to explore the idea of progress (further details to be announced soon – watch this space!), which I hope will also lead onto some really interesting collaborations.

I think your comments earlier about the ‘inward looking’ tendencies of Brits in geography education touches on a really important point which has been particularly exposed by recent work in the discipline asking why is my geography curriculum so white? There is obviously a lot of work to do, but there are some great collaborations going on, some hard questions being asked, and some hints of substantive institutional changes, and I hope GEReCo can play a part in expanding the representation, knowledges and voices that make up geography education. I would love to see GEReCo contributing to an increasingly vibrant and critically-engaged geography education research landscape that supports geography education researchers, nurtures great international collaborations, and facilitates lively and generative interactions across the geographies of education, the wider discipline, and the school subject.

CB: That sounds great Steve! Sign me up!

[1] Butt’s guest editorial in IRGEE with a focus on Perspectives on research in geography education, published in 2010, touches on some of these issues

[2] Ashley Kent was Professor of Geography Education at the Institute of Education. For an example of Ashley’s work including a focus on the development of geography education at the IoE, see: