Fieldwork at GCSE is changing – how, and what are the implications?

KS3 students conducting a survey

Not everyone will be mourning the end of controlled assessment for GCSE geography. But its demise doesn’t mean fieldwork has come to an end – in fact, it may have been strengthened. Fieldwork for GCSE:

  • is worth 15% of the overall mark
  • will be assessed in the terminal exam
  • must be carried out on at least two occasions in contrasting locations
  • requires a written statement from centres to confirm all students have been offered fieldwork opportunities.

Each exam board has its own approach to fieldwork, but what they have in common is the enquiry process. This is a requirement in the subject content for GCSE geography. The six stages of the enquiry process, with which we are all familiar, will form the basis for assessment of fieldwork:

  • understanding the kinds of questions that can be investigated through fieldwork and the geographical enquiry process
  • understanding the range of techniques and methods used in fieldwork
  • processing and presenting fieldwork data in various ways
  • analysing and explaining data collected in the field
  • drawing evidenced conclusions from fieldwork data
  • reflecting critically on fieldwork data, methods, conclusions, and knowledge gained.

In the exam, students could be asked questions about any of these stages, based on their own fieldwork experience, or they could be asked to apply their experience to other fieldwork examples.

In order to do this, students will need a broad range of fieldwork experiences on which they can draw – probably more than they could get from two GCSE field trips, and certainly more than they would have got from one controlled assessment.

This has major implications for the amount of fieldwork students will do and when they should start to do fieldwork.

There is a strong case for fieldwork to be embedded in the geography curriculum at least from the start of KS3 – so that students have sufficient experiences on which to draw when it comes to GCSE.

John Widdowson is series editor of GCSE Geography OCR B (new for 2016) and runs fieldwork programmes in east London – find out more.