The times they are a-changin’ – Bob Digby on the new specifications

Beachy Head, East Sussex

It’s all change in the geography curriculum! Both GCSE and A Level specifications are changing in September 2016, with first examinations in summer 2018.

The last examinations for the existing qualifications will take place in summer 2017.

Any teachers teaching a three-year GCSE will already have started teaching the new courses!

Change at GCSE

The changes to GCSE are considerable:

  • There are no unitised examinations – all GCSE specifications will be linear and assessed terminally.
  • Although GCSE remains the hallmark qualification for 16-year-olds, assessment will alter radically. New grades will range from 1 (lowest achievement) to 9 (highest). The boundary for achieving the new grade 4 will be the same standard as that for the existing Grade C. Similarly, there will be equivalence between the bottom of grade 7 and the existing Grade A.
  • Controlled Assessment has been removed, so that fieldwork is now assessed within terminal examinations. However, fieldwork requirements are strengthened, with fieldwork now specified on two occasions rather than one.

Content changes at GCSE

The DfE now specifies GCSE subject content, so teachers can expect similarity between specifications. There are seven specifications to choose from, but all contain the following content:

  • Locational and place knowledge – with an emphasis on a sense of place, developed in depth, rather than shallow case studies
  • Geography of the UK – emphasising the UK’s physical landscape (rather than just rivers or coasts) and human landscapes in urban and rural areas
  • Geomorphic processes and landscape
  • Weather and climate – including global climate processes and climate change
  • Ecosystems and resource management
  • Cities and urbanisation – including studies of a mega-city in the developing world or an emerging country
  • Global economic development – including a study of a developing or emerging country

In spite of similarities, GCSE specifications differ slightly:

  • Some contain additional topics, such as tectonic hazards (AQA, Edexcel B, Eduqas A, and OCR B).
  • Some have adopted an issues-based approach (defining topical content within in a people-environment approach), whereas others are thematic (Edexcel A, Eduqas B, and OCR A).
  • Some include a decision-making exercise in their assessment (AQA, Edexcel B, OCR B, and Eduqas B).

Change at A Level

Like GCSE, there is considerable change, with new subject content for many teachers, including a core prescribed by the DfE which covers 60% of what is taught.

  • AS survives as a qualification, but it is now decoupled from A Level, so that A Level is now a two-year linear course.
  • An increase in geographical theory, with fourteen challenging concepts (such as inequality, identity, globalisation, and interdependence) replacing ageing models such as the Demographic Transition Model.
  • Students will be required to carry out a coursework investigation for A Level geography, based on individualised work and worth 20% of the qualification. These will be teacher-assessed, and moderated by the awarding organisations.

Content at A Level

The compulsory core consists of four themes:

  • Water and carbon cycles
  • Landscape systems (a choice of one from coastal, glaciated, or dryland landscapes)
  • Global systems and governance (covering global systems of themes such as trade, inequalities, population and migration, and human rights)
  • Changing places (e.g. the nature of place, cultural diversity, economic restructuring and re-branding)

The remaining 40% of content can be selected by exam boards.

Note: Eduqas is the new brand from WJEC, offering Ofqual reformed qualifications in England, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, and to the independent sector in Wales (restrictions may apply).

Author Bob Digby is a former teacher, PGCE tutor, and GA President. He is currently working on two new courses: GCSE Geography Edexcel B and Geography for Edexcel A Level and AS.