“One of the aims of this committee is to facilitate dialogue between schools, universities and the world of work and this conference is all about making that happen. This is especially important at this critical time of transition and change for Scottish Education.“ 

So began Alastair McConnell, Head of the Geography Department at Dollar Academy and chair of the RSGS education committee who opened our conference last Saturday.


On Saturday 25th February RSGS convened a full day, fast-paced conference at Dollar Academy to bring together as many key individuals and organisations from across the spectrum of the broad education sector, to discuss how to maximise and promote the relevance and uptake of geography. With two ongoing enquiries being led by Scottish Government and the scrutiny of the OECD review and with researchers like Stirling University's Mark Priestley, this was an opportunity for the community of geography to gather it's thoughts, to challenge itself, but also to build consensus and thereby be better placed to respond and work together towards a shared vision for our subject.  The meeting brought together policy experts and practitioners with academics, teachers and students and covered a huge amount of ground including 20 speakers giving short provocations and around 65 participants.

Professors Muir and Hayward updated delegates on the two ongoing government reviews into education to help set the scene. Professor Priestley spoke about his recent findings into the impacts of a very much narrower curriculum under the Curriculum for Excellence.  Ian Selmes gave an insight into his demographic research into the Geography of Geography.  The delegates were then challenged to consider how to respond strategically, and how government and civil service bodies could do more to reinforce the relevance and appeal of the subject and to help spark the 'joy of discovery' as Victoria Vardy of Gen+ described it, that geography can so easily inspire.

The second part of the conference looked at what more geography could do to help itself.  Speakers included Iain Aitken, President of SAGT, Alan Kinder, CEO of GA,  teacher Shiv Das and student Ellie Kirkland.  Barely pausing for breath, we then tested the appetite for geography’s role in wider achievement and the need for wider literacy in key issues like citizenship skills, climate change, fieldwork and social justice.  Speakers included Gen+’s Victoria Vardy, Fuelchange’s Anna Bell, Ben Sparham from Highland One World, Emma Wotherspoon from Gairloch High School and Graeme Cooke from SPICE.  

The final session of the day was all about smoothing the transition from school to the workplace and university.  Professor Jo Sharp from University of St Andrews and Geographer Royal for Scotland led the provocations.  John McKendrick spoke eloquently about the importance of social inclusion and Bruce Gittings gave a passionate speech about the wealth of employment opportunities in Geographical Information Systems and modern data mapping.  With the boom in jobs in the sustainability and geospatial arenas, delegates were asked to offer ideas about how to better integrate these topics into the curriculum or how to help steer young people towards these careers.


The event was very well received spawning all sorts of new connections and exciting ideas and there was huge enthusiasm to build on the momentum generated during the day.  All the discussions, provocations and thoughts will be captured in a report which we will put up on the RSGS website later in the Spring and shared with Scottish Government and its agencies. We are hugely grateful to everyone who took the time to attend, and shared their collective wisdom, also to Dollar Academy for hosting and to Alastair McConnell, Chair of RSGS Education Committee, for putting it together.

Professor Roger Crofts, who attended the conference, was enthusiastic about the day’s deliberations: “Congratulations RSGS, and especially Mike Robinson and Alistair McConnell, in kick starting this vitally important initiative.  It is very encouraging that we already have a wide range of interests involved in our deliberations: classroom teachers of all ages and experiences, SAGT colleagues, school students, university geography colleagues, and education academics. We are also fortunate in having the highly influential Ken Muir in our team. One thought from me is how we focus our campaign. I don’t think it is banging the drum for geography per se. Rather, we should be arguing the case for teaching at secondary and tertiary levels to focus on knowledge about the world at each student’s doorstep and how this relates globally, and on helping them acquire the skills and competencies to be well rounded and grounded citizens and in the world of work beyond school.”


RSGS Education Chair, and Head of Geography at Dollar Academy, Alastair McConnell, closed the proceedings.  “Just a reminder that this is just the start. Please make use of any contacts you have made here through RSGS and keep the conversations going. We can all help each other to make the everyday experience of young learners in Geography classrooms across the country more relevant and more engaging. 

Thank you very much for the time you have given, …all of the thoughts and ideas you have contributed today will be collated together into a report and published on the RSGS website along with recordings of the provocations.  We are particularly grateful to all of the presenters who have each offered such thought provoking and interesting provocations that have in turn sparked much of the discussion.  Please keep in touch with RSGS and SAGT as we go through the process of reinventing this wonderful subject – Geography.”