This month we talk to Richard Maurice, Lead Geography Consultant for the Harris Federation, about the importance of geography, his passion for the subject, and where it can take today’s students.
Can you tell us a little about your career to date, and your current role at the Harris Federation?
I’ve been teaching for 11 years, after graduating from the University of Exeter with a PGCE in Secondary Geography, having completed my BA (Hons) at the same university. I started my career teaching at Harris Academy South Norwood, but always had the urge to spend time abroad, so then taught for 2 years at St Julian’s School in Portugal.
I moved back to the UK to be the Head of Geography at another Harris Academy in Crystal Palace, which at the time was the most oversubscribed non-denominational secondary school in the country. After 4 years in the role, I took on the position of Lead Geography Consultant for the Harris Federation, tasked with ‘raising standards in geography across the federation’, which now comprises 27 secondary academies in and around London.
What was it about geography that particularly interested you?
Geography is the study of spatial differentiation; in other words, exploring the ways that places differ, and the reasons for these differences. I’ve always been fascinated by the world’s diverse countries and regions – their cultures, climates and landscapes. Geography as a discipline provided me with the tools to intelligently explore the world, and so pursuing the subject in my higher education made sense. Teaching geography is simply an extension of this, allowing me to indulge in my passion and share it with others.
Why do you think geography is important for today’s students?
On a very practical level, geography as a degree can unlock a myriad of futures for prospective students. The Institute of Fiscal Studies recently published data showing that geography graduates earn 10% more than the average graduate. This alone makes it an attractive prospect.
However, geography of course serves a much more important purpose; it helps unlock the causes behind much of the economic, environmental and geopolitical change we see around us, and in doing so helps us to navigate the murky waters of the 21st century.
How do you approach teaching geography at your schools? Do you have any top tips for engaging students in the subject?
In my experience, the best way to motivate students is through drawing direct comparisons between the theory learnt in the classroom and real life examples. From its Greek etymology, geography literally means to ‘write about the earth’. Nothing we study should be confined to a textbook; it should be brought to life through the study of places. Even better, these places should be visited – either on a day trip, or as part of a longer visit on a holiday or school study tour.
What can parents do at home to encourage their children to take an active interest in geography?
Discuss what they are learning in their geography lessons and act as an engaged listener. Geography is so interesting, and children should be encouraged to talk about it. I would also encourage students to become active participants in the geography community. There are many options to choose from, including becoming student members of the Royal Geographical Society, subscribing to the National Geographical Magazine, going to the Geographical Association’s (GA) annual conference, or even signing up to the GA’s Worldwide Quiz.
Finally, get your children reading. Reading and writing are central to being good geographers because good readers make good thinkers, and good thinkers make good geographers. Reading books about far-off places will also stimulate your child’s imagination about the world and add to their ‘cultural literacy’. I give each of my students a list of books they should read by the time they leave school, all of which will in some way improve their geographical understanding.