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Problematising the concept of ‘personal geography’ within initial teacher education

Bermingham, Susan Hazel (2015) Problematising the concept of ‘personal geography’ within initial teacher education. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The thesis investigates the concept of ‘personal geographies’ as introduced in the 2007 National Curriculum for England (QCA, 2007), and considers the implications for initial teacher education and for the teaching and learning of geography in secondary schools. The inclusion of personal geographies seemed to offer the potential for a curriculum that values diversity and is relevant to the personal experiences and values of learners. However, it is argued that the concept was never adequately defined or elaborated in curriculum and policy documents, and that the attempt to bring the ‘personal’ into the classroom can have unintended consequences for teacher education and pupil experience. Using a case study methodology, the thesis explores different angles upon and responses to the concept of ‘personal geography’. It begins by examining the historical and policy background, including the changing relationship over time between school and academic geography, and the ‘personalisation’ agenda which dominated education policy in England in the mid-2000s. This provides the context for the empirical investigation, which explores the views of student geography teachers at a large teacher education institution in England and of pupils in the schools that worked in partnership with this higher education institution. Key themes emerging from the study include: the nature of the transition from geography graduate to novice teacher, and the ways in which personal experience complicates this transition; the risk of silencing certain voices and experiences, and under-valuing certain kinds of knowledge; and the significance of classroom space in facilitating or suppressing the expression of personal experiences. The thesis also raises questions about policy-driven interventions, where these operate in advance of adequate curricular, professional or research knowledge. Although the 2007 geography curriculum was superseded by later versions, the issues identified in the thesis concerning the concept of personal geography are, it is argued, of continuing significance for those with an interest in the nature and status of geography as a school subject, and the education of student teachers of geography.

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