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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

The surfacing of geographical intuitions

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

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

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

On Collaborative Observation

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

Learner-Generated Augmentation

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

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

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

Spatial computing and its implications for geography education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding remarks

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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