Recognising this need, recent changes in geography curricula in schools have emphasised the development of data skills. For example, from 2016 all A Level geographers are required to undertake an individual investigation where they collect, analyse and draw conclusions from a range of different data sources.
These changes are designed to give geography pupils the skills and confidence to progress successfully from school, whether that’s to continue studying or to go into employment. They also help equip geography graduates with the data skills expected by employers.
To support teachers in implementing this focus on data skills, which for some is a new area of work, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) has established a two-year programme, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
Data Skills in Geography is an integrated programme of work across schools and higher education that will support both teachers and students. It will improve understanding of data skills, confidence in their use, and knowledge of their value to further study and employment.
The Society is working with Richard Harris, Professor of Quantitative Social Geography at the University of Bristol, to develop the programme, which will also raise awareness in schools and higher education about recent curriculum changes, and share the good practice and expertise that already exists in both communities.
“Teaching data skills is vital because it helps pupils learn to not just accept data, but to first cast a critical eye”
Online resources to support the teaching of data skills at GCSE and A Level are being produced and will be available in the schools section of the Society’s website. These will be accompanied by a programme of face-to-face training for current teachers and those entering Initial Teacher Training.
Paul Turner, Head of Geography at Bedales Schools in Petersfield, is hosting one of the programme’s training events in June. He says: ‘The event will show teachers how to access real-world data in a schools context. Using UK census data, Dr Adam Dennett and I will provide teachers with hands-on experience and take-away activities that they can adjust to their own classrooms.
‘Teaching data skills is vital because it helps pupils learn to not just accept data, but to first cast a critical eye. Encouraging pupils to source real-world data gives the data meaning and, in doing so, creates interest: they are able to see much more clearly why the skills are useful.’
Throughout the Data Skills in Geography programme, the Society will also be working with examination boards and collaborating with other organisations (including Esri UK, the Field Studies Council and Ordnance Survey) to maximise its impact. A series of briefing papers will be produced to help update higher education colleagues about the changes taking place in schools, and experiences from the programme will be shared with other learned societies.
By highlighting geography’s particular role in supporting data skills, and the value of data skills to students as they transition from school to higher education and then into the workplace, the programme aims to upskill the teachers of today and enhance the abilities of the geographers of tomorrow.