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Revived Fawcett Fellowships for Teachers

Ben Bishop on the value of a mid-career sabbatical

Revived Fawcett Fellowships for Teachers

Since the UCL Geography Fawcett Fellowship scheme was established in the 1980s, around 50 mid-career geography teachers have spent sabbatical terms at UCL pursuing their interests, updating their knowledge and renewing their enthusiasm for the subject.  Unfortunately, even though the scheme pays schools for replacement teaching, pressures on their time and resources have discouraged applications in recent years.

There was thus a particular welcome for its successful revival in the autumn term of 2019, when Eltham Hill School, Greenwich, was able to arrange for Ben Bishop, its lead practitioner in geography, to take up a Fellowship.

Afterwards, Ben reflected on his experience:

At the outset of the Fellowship I had three primary aims: first, to develop my geographical knowledge; second, to carry out a research project which would in some way help teachers; and third, to develop my department’s curriculum in view of the new Ofsted Framework.

I chose to attend three undergraduate courses: Water and Development in Africa; Environmental Change; Development Geographies.

For Water and Development in Africa, I wanted to gain a more in-depth understanding of the physical side of the hydrological cycle, making links with the ‘Water Cycle’ unit studied at A-level. I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Richard Taylor’s lectures and the background readings, applying them to my blog: https://watersanity.blogspot.com, using Twitter to share with other teachers.

The Environmental Change course was a fascinating, if somewhat alarming, unit on the impacts of humans on the planet, with a focus on the science. Geography teachers need to remain aware of the factual evidence for change, avoiding any drift towards the alarmist/popular culture opinions often found on the internet. Using some ideas from this course, I developed a unit on Sustainability, looking at the ‘Geography of stuff’, asking the question of whether we can live sustainably and have all our ‘stuff’.

Development Geographies was a more self-indulgent topic, which I find personally fascinating. Again I wanted to use the resources in a way that might help other teachers. One lecture on Globalisation by Dr Ben Page made me reflect on how I introduce the topic at A-level, so I wrote a guest post as part of the ‘How I Teach series’ by Tom H: https://teamgeography.wordpress.com/ .

One highlight of my Fawcett Fellowship has been presenting ideas on ‘Connecting geography in schools to academia’, both at the Royal Geographical Society, as part of its annual Teachermeet, and as a seminar to UCL Geography colleagues.

The Fawcett Fellowship has allowed me to carry out a huge amount of reading around the curriculum, as well as working with other Heads of department, and with Dr Alex Standish as part of his UCL Institute of Education Geography Curriculum Working Group.

I want to thank my Head Teacher, Erika Podmore, for enabling me to take part in this excellent programme. It takes a forward thinking and trusting Head to see the value in allowing teachers such an opportunity and I hope that others will be able to follow me in future years. I’m also grateful to all of the members of UCL Geography who welcomed and supported me throughout.

All this and associated work has transformed my perspective on curriculum making and I am looking forward to introducing many of the ideas I have developed over the last few months into my teaching.


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Ben Bishop