While there are a number of changes and challenges for our education environments, there are some components of the calendar and our world that will be maintained and continued throughout. One of those, at about this time of year, is the thinking about options choices for non-core subjects.
When I took over my Department, GCSE numbers were below forty. Now, we regularly exceed 55 students choosing the subject, making us the highest options subject in the school.
We’ve more than doubled the cohort at A level. In 2014, 5 students took A level Geography; in 2015, it was 14. Last year, we had 22 students – with 9 taking up places at university to read Geography – and this year, we had 35 Year 12 students choosing to do A level Geography; only a few shy of A Level Maths as the most popular option at KS5.
What are we saying to our students at these key moments? Of course, the simple answer is that there isn’t a magic bullet – the exceptionally hard work of the team to build an amazing curriculum, teach great lessons, and constantly engaging them with the awesome power of the real world – but we do find that good marketing and messaging helps.
Constant messaging and marketing of the Department is important. Are you always showing the pride in your subject and engagement with the world? If you have a Dept Instagram, Twitter, or subject page – what does it say? What is the state of your virtual environment – internal pages – and physical environment? Students often talk to us about the work we’ve done; the resources they’ve seen us make and share – they know we care about them, and these are indicators of that.
So, when we’re in front of them on an Options Evening, or event, what do we say? Here are some key thoughts:
- Who am I talking to? There are likely to be a few groups in the room: those definitely doing the course, and looking for details. Those considering it, and wanting to evaluate the options. Those who need to be persuaded of its’ merits as an academic subject (often more parents than students). I need to address all of these. I have no interest in trying to convince anyone outside of these groups – if I need to tell you that Geography is a good idea, then you’re not my target audience.
- I am not marketing Geography as an abstract concept, I’m explaining how *we* do Geography. If it’s an A level event, I want to explain why our course, our offer, our spec and approach is different to other schools/Sixth Forms they might have seen. If it’s a GCSE, then I am less likely to see external candidates; and want to explain how it’s different to other subjects.
- I am explaining why Geography is brilliant. I don’t need to put anyone else down to do that. We don’t. I insist and remind my team of that too. History/RE/Classics are brilliant subjects – do both/all if you can. If you can’t, choose the one that’s right for you. I want that for my students.
- I want to address the practical concerns: what is in the course? What order do we teach? What are lessons like? Who are the teachers, and will I be guaranteed to get Mrs X or Mr Y? What is it like compared to Year 9/my GCSEs? Is there course work? “My brother did controlled assessment and hated it… will I have to…” etc.
- I want to address the logistical concerns; is there fieldwork? Will it cost me a lot to have my child do Geography (parent)? Can I go on amazing trips (student)? Can I come on the amazing trip, too (Parent)?
- My “big picture” lens is about the combination and subject approach. I talk about the blend of skills – arts meet science; essay subjects vs numerical subjects; analyse meets explain; the changing nature of the world meaning that no two lessons will be identical, and you’ll understand the world better – and how Geography goes with so many subjects because it complements and supports any understanding you want. I don’t make it abstract – I make it real for the students.
So far this works. I’m happy to answer questions and share ideas and thinking – hope it’s helpful for many people at this time of year!