Powerful Geography

A Curriculum with purpose in practice

By: Mark Enser


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Products specifications
Attribute nameAttribute value
Size222 x 182mm
PublishedJanuary 2021

In Powerful Geography: A curriculum with purpose in practice, Mark Enser breaks down the core elements of curriculum planning to empower teachers to design and deliver their geography curriculum effectively.

In recent years the emphasis has shifted away from a focus on pedagogy (the how of teaching) and towards curriculum (the what of teaching). Ofsted’s revised inspection framework reflects this shift, and their plans to “deep dive” into subject areas – meaning that teachers and department heads now need a much greater understanding of curricular structures – leave many educators having to think about their subject in new ways.

Luckily for geography teachers, however, bestselling author Mark Enser provides plenty of insightful, subject-specific guidance in this all-encompassing book.

Mark explores both the purpose of the geography curriculum and its various applications in practice. He details how teachers can take their students’ learning beyond the acquisition of knowledge to transform how they see the world. He also tackles the changing nature of school geography, shares a variety of case studies, and offers his take on how best to facilitate geographical enquiry and fieldwork.

The first part of the book considers the issue of purpose by looking at the role of the school in society and then shows the place that geography occupies within it. It also considers the history of the subject so as to help geography teachers better understand where they stand today, and concludes by discussing how the concepts of powerful knowledge and GeoCapabilities can help them find their way again.

The second part is a practical guide which illustrates how to put this theory of curriculum purpose into practice. It explores the steps which must be taken to create a powerful geography curriculum by deciding on content and places to be studied, putting the components into a sequence and then using all this to do geography. It will also discuss the extent to which teachers need to consider the future and respond to the concerns of the wider world when planning the curriculum.

Suitable for department heads and classroom teachers of geography in secondary schools and subject leads in primary schools.

Powerful Geography was Highly Commended in the Geographical Association Awards 2022. 

Picture for author Mark Enser

Mark Enser

Mark Enser has been teaching geography for the best part of two decades and is a head of department and research lead at Heathfield Community College, as well as a specialist leader of education (SLE) and evidence lead in education (ELE). He is a regular TES columnist and often speaks at education conferences. Mark has written several books and also writes a blog called Teaching It Real and tweets @EnserMark. He spends the rest of his time reading, drinking coffee and playing Dungeons & Dragons.

View Marks features on TES here.

Click here to read Mark Enser’s blog.


  1. Mark Enser’s book is a thought-provoking and challenging call to arms for geography teachers.

    It demands of them, in Part 1, that they identify the purpose behind their teaching of geography and, in Part 2, that they fulfill this purpose through the means by which they deliver the geography curriculum in practice.

    Neither of these tasks is simple but, for geography teachers burdened by overly prescriptive and constantly changing national curricula, micro-managerialism, and pedagogical and political fads and fashions, this volume offers teachers both a partial explanation of the maelstroms in which they currently operate and some suggestions on how they might regain some agency and coherence in their own teaching practice.

    Part 1 Purpose homes in on the geography curriculum through a consideration of what schools are for (Chapter 1), approaches to knowledge (Chapter 2), the historical development of school geography (Chapter 3)and “the shift in the ownership of curriculum creation from academic geographers through curriculum experts to politicians” (p.53), a process through which the subject of geography is all but lost sight of (Chapter 4), before articulating, in Chapter 5, a purpose for the geography curriculum. This purpose is based on the discipline’s big ideas (e.g., space, place, scale etc.) and the (geo)capabilities (e.g., a better understanding of the natural and social worlds, the ability to go beyond the limits of one’s personal experience etc.) that it can offer to those who study it.

    Part 2 Practice begins by contending that the content (Chapter 6) of geographical curricula should impart powerful knowledge which provides new ways of thinking, helps pupils to explain and understand the world, gives them power over what they know, enables them to join in conversations and debates, and gives them knowledge of the world. This requires a purposive selection of the places chosen for study (Chapter 7), of the sequencing (Chapter 8) of the topics included in the curriculum, and of the activities (Chapter 9, Doing geography), such as fieldwork, that the students undertake. In Chapter 10 (Geography for the 21st century), Enser acknowledges that geography curricula are constantly changing in a changing world but, as he argues in his conclusion (Chapter 11), it is only though the purposeful imparting of powerful knowledge that the process of “putting the (geography) teacher back into education” (p.169) can occur.

    Although this work is written from a British perspective, the issues and concepts raised therein are equally relevant in the Australian context and the work of Australian geographereducators such as Alaric Maude and David Wadley are extensively cited.

    Powerful geography is a stimulating and provocative read which should give any Australian geography teacher considerable food for thought and, ideally, action.

  2. What I like about Powerful Geography is the way it presents key ideas so fluently and bridges the gap between evidence-informed practice and everyday classroom practice. The book is well laid out and easy to find different sections, which include real classroom examples sourced from practising teachers to support the ideas and academic literature discussed. The text is very accessible to read yet covers rigorous theoretical concepts, clearly presenting the discussion in a purposeful way, acknowledging the curriculum debate and the significance of geography as an important subject in secondary schools. It empowers teachers to think deeply as experts and so take responsibility for being curriculum makers; it has proven to be an essential read for supporting my trainee teachers and I know they will continue to refer to this during their ECT years and beyond. Overall, Powerful Geography is a great book which I would recommend to all geography teachers!

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