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23 June 2023

'In praise of fieldwork...' St. Francis' Weekly Blog  

In praise of fieldwork... St. Francis Weekly Blog  

In praise of fieldwork... 

...unless you are up a hill in Snowdonia, in the pouring rain, whilst the other half of your university cohort that chose ‘human’ Geography topics were in the Caribbean. (True story – I’m still bitter after all these years!!) 

It seems sensible to blog about the value of fieldwork with Year 12 just having come back from carrying out their fieldwork in Epping Forest and Stratford (see photo) and both Year 7 and Year 8 undertaking fieldtrips next week as part of their FIVE STAR DAYS activity week. Many subjects offer educational visits and whilst these obviously help students see the real-world examples of topics that they are studying, Geography is unique in requiring students to collect data ‘in the field’.  

Many of us will fondly remember standing in a river, or by the coast and measuring pebbles or trying, often in vain, to get a member of the great British public to answer our questionnaire. Despite the changes to education, fieldwork is still central to Geography. GCSE students sit a paper (Paper 3) worth 30% of the final mark, where a large chunk of questions is about their individual fieldwork enquiry.  

‘How does that work?’ you may be thinking.  

Students do not need to learn their data, because an examiner could never know if it was correct. They are asked to be reflective and evaluative; how successful was their enquiry? Did the data help them reach a conclusion? What would they do to improve it? It fills me with sadness when I mark this paper as a GCSE examiner that many schools are clearly not preparing their students adequately for these questions. Large schools find it logistically difficult to take students away and many see the large amounts of paperwork and risk assessments as off putting. In many schools it is really clear fieldwork is being squeezed out of the curriculum. We are so lucky at St. Francis’ College to be able to take GCSE students away for a long weekend to really embed their knowledge. It certainly puts them at an advantage. 

Of course, fieldwork is not just about getting the marks I mention above. It teaches such a range of other skills; teamwork, resilience, communication. An understanding of where data comes from and that spatial patterns that exist and can be explained. It is these skills that make geographers so sought after in the world of work.  

One of the highlights of this academic year for me was taking Prep V students into Letchworth to classify shops as independent stores or chain stores (see photo). They really wanted to know if their data meant Letchworth was a clone town or not. Letting them catch the fieldwork bug early was wonderful to watch! 

I love the stories that come out during the Sixth Form Supper of the calamities and the fun of fieldwork. It is this the students will remember when they have left us and that more than anything makes fieldtrips worthwhile. 


Zoe Coles 
Teacher of Geography 

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