Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Wilfred the Droplet and the watering down of geography



You are going to write a short story about Wilfred the Water Droplet’s journey through the water cycle:

What super powers does he use?

Where does he go?

Who does he meet along the way?

Your story must show your understanding of the water cycle (use each term and underline them) but just as importantly, use your imagination and be creative!

It must be in for next lesson.

This geography assignment on the water cycle would be appropriate for seven-year-olds. I recall teaching it to children of that age and linking it to a day out at a reservoir. It included a visit to an excellent education centre and a guided tour of the dam. With plenty of walking and wading in wellington boots, it was ‘active learning’ in a literal sense.

The homework quoted above, however, was set not for younger primary school pupils but for a bright 14-year-old boy who will be starting his GCSE courses in September. He attends a comprehensive school that has an Ofsted rating of ‘outstanding’. It is, therefore, amongst the crème de la crème of our maintained schools and is regarded as the best in its region.The child’s parent sent the assignment to me to me as a typical example of the lack of academic challenge for able pupils, even in the top-rated state schools.

What you see in the Key Stage 3 Geography National Curriculum document appears convincing enough:

Human and physical geography: Understand, through the use of detailed place-based exemplars at a variety of scales, the key processes in: physical geography relating to: geological timescales and plate tectonics; rocks, weathering and soils; weather and climate, including the change in climate from the Ice Age to the present; and glaciation, hydrology and coasts.

Sadly, the story of Wilfred the Water Droplet demonstrates how our new and supposedly more rigorous National Curriculum translates into classroom best practice these days.

The parent who contacted me is so concerned about the squandering of his son’s education that he has felt obliged to teach the child himself at the end of each school day. This has placed the boy around three years ahead of his peers and made school redundant, except for social interactions. No one can help, it seems – not the school, not the local authority, not the MP, not the Department for Education.

The absence of any grammar school provision in his locality, or a rigorous academic examination in place of GCSE, is preventing this child from fulfilling his potential. There are many, many, others in the same position. What a waste of our country’s talent!

The only advice I could offer my correspondent was that he seek educational asylum in a country that achieves much more highly than us – such as Estonia or Vietnam. Yes, for all the self-congratulation from the government and from the educational establishment, ‘the Blob’, things really are that bad.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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