Stephen Scoffham, one of the authors of Teaching Primary Geography, reflects on what geography means to him and how he became interested in it.
What is it that first attracted me to geography? The simple answer is that I don’t really know. Some people seem to have a clear idea of what they are going to do in life from a very early age. They want to be doctors, or vets, or to make lots of money in business. I remember, as an infant, being asked what I wanted to do as a grown up. I couldn’t really think of an answer but wriggled uncomfortably on my bottom instead. ‘I want to be a train driver’ I finally blurted out without much conviction. Fortunately, the teacher, Mrs Brown, seemed convinced. In those days, when the railway engines were still driven by steam, being a train driver was a glamorous enough job which appealed to young boys.
Thinking back, perhaps it was looking at maps as we went on holiday by car which made me interested in geography. And planning trips in the countryside must have nurtured my interest in the physical environment. Also, my father, who was involved in planning in his role with the Local Authority, probably passed on his interest in design and architecture. I know it sounds a bit naff but I remember enjoying colouring in maps and diagrams in my work at school. At one point as an adolescent I spent a few weeks making a relief model of India during a spell of illness and forced convalescence. This was a great hit and the geography teacher was delighted. My model was proudly displayed on the wall of the geography room for quite a number of years after that. No doubt it was discretely cleared away some time later when the builders came to redecorate. Anyway I don’t know what happened to it.
I studied geography at ‘A’ level (it wasn’t very well taught and I didn’t enjoy it that much) so I decided to branch out at university. I opted for a general course which combined a number of subjects. This was a bit of tricky balancing act as it meant switching from one topic to another and I didn’t have enough background knowledge to make sense of everything I was learning. However, after three years I ended up with a sound degree and a specialism in philosophy and history. Not a hint of geography at this stage. Just a broad grounding in humanities which played to my interest in making links and connections. I’ve been developing this way of thinking ever since.
On graduating I worked as a primary and secondary school teacher before becoming the Schools’ Officer for an Urban Studies Centre (community study base) in an historic town. At the same time, I developed a career as a self-employed author of teachers’ and children’s books. I gradually realised that my interest in the urban environment and outdoor learning was steering me towards geography. I was also lucky enough to develop a long-term partnership with two local head teachers. We began by working together on materials to support active learning in the school environment and immediate surroundings. Then, after banging on many doors, we were appointed as consultants for a new school atlas series just as the National Curriculum was coming on stream. I moved into teacher education soon after that. It has proved to be a wonderful and supportive professional environment ever since.
This latest book, Teaching Primary Geography, is also the result of a collaboration. I first met the co-author, Paula Owens when she was a student in initial teacher education and we have both been deeply involved with the Geographical Association ever since. Sharing ideas with Paula has been a really stimulating and creative process. I always think that two minds are better than one and we are particularly proud of the way we have found ways to include sustainability and British values in each of the different areas of study. We are both convinced that the curriculum needs to address contemporary issues. Hopefully you will be too as you read through our ideas and suggestions. Do let us know what you think.
Dr. Stephen Scoffham has published widely for schools and teachers in the field of primary geography. He is the editor for the Geographical Association’s Primary Geography Handbook (2004, 2010), chief consultant/author for the Collins Junior Atlas, UK in Maps and World in Maps and joint author of the newly issued Collins Primary Geography textbook scheme. In 2014 he won an award for his work on devising and Teaching Geography Creatively (Routledge), a resource book for teachers.He is currently based at Canterbury Christ Church University where he is a Visiting Lecturer in Sustainability and Education. You can follow him on twitter @
Dr. Paula Owens is an education consultant and author. Along with Stephen, she is the co-author of Bloomsbury Curriculum Basics Teaching Primary Geography. Her career has spanned teaching and leadership in primary schools and curriculum development lead for the Geographical Association. You can follow her on twitter @
Bloomsbury Curriculum Basics: Teaching Primary Geography is available to purchase here