Teaching about Changing Places

Millennium Footbridge Lowry Centre and Victoria Point apartment block, Salford Quays

For many years now, ‘place’ and place theory have formed a significant part of undergraduate study in the UK. And most teachers who have graduated in geography since 2000 will have studied aspects of place at university. This is just one way in which a gap has existed between school geography and Higher Education Institutions (HEI) since the late 1990s.

ALCAB, the advisory committee appointed to recommend subject content to the Department for Education in 2014, were concerned to update the subject and to close the school-HEI ‘gap’.

One of the changes is that the new 2016 A Level specifications contain core topics – one of which is Changing Places. But what should teachers teach, and what can students do in lessons that are about Changing Places?

The answer to that question will of course vary, depending upon which specification you are teaching. But here are some suggestions for classroom activities based on the core requirements specified by ALCAB.

1 The locality

Students must study the local place in which they live or study, and at least one further contrasting place. Their place can be a locality, neighbourhood, or small community, and either rural or urban. Study must include ways in which connections between this locality and regional, national, international, and global scales help to explain the dynamics
which affect it and the changes which are taking place.

Classroom activities:

  • Walking around the locality to photograph local features which are historic and which represent the unchanging nature of the locality – its places of worship, older houses, listed buildings, landmarks, physical features, and so on.
  • A second walk to identify places which are changing as a result of influences at different scales. For example, regional influences might include local farm shops specialising in regional produce; national influences might include a retail park in which national chain stores are represented; and international and global influences might include food take-aways, specialist shops designed to attract particular nationalities, or a new office building built for a TNC.

2 The impact of connections upon people and place

Themes include:

a) Changing demographic and cultural characteristics

Classroom activities:

  • Analysis of 2011 census data and how it reveals changes since 2001 in population numbers, structure, composition, and country of birth or origin. These data are fairly unfathomable if used raw from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), but local councils will have an analysis of the data for their area, county, or borough which will most likely include a breakdown of data by ward. Most wards consist of about 1000-1500 people, and so represent a locality.

b) Economic change and social inequalities

Classroom activities:

  • Again, analysis of ONS data reveals employment change, and expanding and contracting employment sectors. Local authorities usually publish their own economic plans and analysis, which are more user-friendly and localised.
  • Questionnaire surveys from the students’ own homes, to investigate experience of employment change among people at home. This could be extended to include experiences of a neighbour.

c) Meaning and representation

This is probably where geographers are on least familiar territory. It explores ways in which people attach meanings and representations to places, such as how people portray places in marketing (e.g. tourism), on TV (e.g. in dramas such as ‘Doc Martin’ or documentaries such as ‘Benefits Street’), or in promoting new housing or office developments.

Classroom activities:

  • Select – or ask students to select – photos, a film or TV programme, music, art, literature, poetry, or a drama which conveys a message about their locality or region. These could be contemporary, or could be from a previous time – for example, how ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials conveys messages of de-industrialisation from Coventry in the early 1980s.

Bob Digby is a former teacher, PGCE tutor, and GA President. He has written many popular geography textbooks, including GCSE Geography Edexcel B and Geography for Edexcel A Level and AS for the 2016 specifications.

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