Posted by: markhowell101 | April 26, 2014

IGCSE Geography – A perspective from a 1st time teacher

Having just planned my last lesson for year 11 I though I would reflect on my first time teaching through the IGCSE course and offer some comparisons with the UK GCSE’s that I have taught previously. I know a lot of UK schools are moving towards the IGCSE and my view now is that it has it’s pros and cons.

My first comment is on the content of the course. There is a lot of it and there is some difficult stuff. I found that coming from the UK GCSE’s, this felt more like teaching a watered down A-Level than a GCSE in terms of the amount of content and the number of topics covered. There was also content which previously I had only taught A-Level students, concepts like underpopulation and the Hjulstrom curve immediately spring to mind. I was expecting this as I had heard that the IGCSE was held in higher regard than the standard UK GCSE as so was expecting more content but I found it a lot to get through. Indeed with my first cohort I have failed to teach the entire course, teaching only Tourism and the Environmental Issues sections of Unit 3. This may cause problems for them in paper 2 and so I have elected to start teaching the IGCSE half way through year 9 for future year groups in order to get the course done.

Having said the amount of content is perhaps too much, I do like the range of content. I think the UK GCSE’s have become too narrow and it was nice to teach a much broader range of content than I have been used to in the last couple of year. In particular I became frustrated in the UK with the emphasis on sustainability in all the GCSE courses I encountered. Whilst sustainability is a ‘buzz’ concept right now and of course it should be covered, I felt in the UK that we had to link everything we taught to this concept and this became dull and repetitive. It was nice to get away from this and teach a course which includes the issue sustainability and includes environmental issues but does not have this running through the entire course. Geography is about more than just ‘global warming is bad’ which I felt was the message of some UK courses.

In spite of my like of the range of content, I do feel some of it is a little archaic, a view shared by my colleagues in other subject areas. This is most strikingly the case in the skills which the students need and the most obvious example is that they need to be able to read and interpret analogue weather equipment. We had to buy this equipment (barometer, max/min thermometer, hygrometer, rain gauge, anemometer) and it was a lot more expensive than buying a digital weather station, harder to read and far less accurate. Which begs the questions, who uses these analogue devices these days? – answer, nobody. I know the board has to consider parts of the world where digital equipment is not available, but I teach on a small island in the Indian Ocean, there can be few places harder to get this equipment than here. We had few recording the weather and interpreting it but how relevant was it?

We elected the coursework component and it was refreshing to do coursework again and not controlled assessment. It was also nice to have a free reign on this, able to set my own title and let the students come up with their own route to enquiry rather than having to use set titles suggested by the board. Cambridge require you to submit a proposal to confirm that your title is appropriate, but I found this a straightforward process. You simply have to prove the link between the work you will do and the specification, which is simple enough. The students engaged with the coursework process and the weighting of the work (27.5%) seems appropriate for the amount of work that went into it. I personally think that fieldwork is a vital part of geography and for that reason I avoided the alternative to coursework paper.

My biggest complaint, and I may be complaining even more about it in 2 weeks, is with the main paper, paper 1. In particular I take issue with many of the big, 7 mark questions that have come up in recent years. As part of any geography course it is necessary to teach case studies and expect students to recall key information about them, however Cambridge do not make it clear what case studies you need to teach. I have come across a number of 7 mark questions on past papers which refer to small bullet points, or even half bullet points on the specification and it is not feasible for teachers to teach meaningful case studies that cover every point on the spec. A recent example occurred in one of the paper 1’s in 2013 where students were asked to describe the distribution of population in a country and draw a sketch map to show this. The specification requires students to: ‘Identify the major influences on population distribution. Reference should be made to the physical, economic and human factors’. The specification suggests you should teach a case study for each point so of course I did. However, nowhere does it suggest that students should be able to sketch a map of the case study. Do we now assume from this question that students should be able to sketch a map of any of the case studies? They are told they should be able to recognise a pattern on a population distribution map but not to have to draw one. Certainly my students would have been unable to do the second part of this question, I wonder how many would be able to. This makes the exam somewhat of a lottery as if you just so happen to have taught the right case studies the students will have a good range of choice on what questions they answer, if you don’t teach the right ones their choices would become more limited. This second guessing about case studies seems unfair and I noticed it has been addressed by the new new specification for 2016 teaching which does specify the case studies. A big improvement I hope.

Posted by: markhowell101 | November 24, 2013

2013 Music Masterpieces Month

As ever, December for me is Music Masterpieces Month. For a full explanation of what that is click here but in summary throughout December every year I listen to an entire album per day.

The rules for selection are simple, 31 great records which I think are brilliant and worth a listen start to finish. No artist can have more than 1 entry and there can be no compilations of course as these are not always intended for a complete listen. 

The 2009 list was: Slipknot – Slipknot, Foo Fighters – The colour and the shape, The Bronx – The Bronx, At the drive-in – Relationship of Command, The Darkness – Permission to land, Jamie T – Sticks and stones, Hell is for heroes – Transmit disrupt, Levellers – Levelling the land, Frank Turner – Love ire and song, A – vs Monkey kong, Pearl Jam – Ten, Nirvana – Nevermind, Funeral for a friend – Casually dressed and deep in conversation, ….And you will know us by the trail of dead – Source tags and codes, Sparta – 3’s, Strung out – Twisted by design, Oasis – Whats the story morning glory, The Offspring – Americana, The Music – Strength in numbers, Gaslight anthem – 59 sound, Bloc Party – Intimacy, The cooper temple clause – See this through and leave, Kasabian – Kasabian, Longcut – A call and a response, Million dead – Harmony no harmony, Seafood – When do we start fighting, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever you say I am that is what I am not, Biffy Clyro – Puzzle, Roddy Woomble – My secret is my silence, Mars Volta – De-loused in the comatorium, Interpol – Turn on the bright lights.

In 2010 the list was: At the drive in – Relationship of Command, Bloc Party – Intimacy, Enter Shikari – Common Dreads, Foo Fighters – The colour and the shape, Jamie T – Kings and queens, Levellers – Levelling the land, Mars Volta – Deloused in the comatorium, System of a down – Toxicity, The streets – Original Pirate Material, Nirvana – Nevermind, Million dead – Harmony no harmony, Hell is for heroes – Neon handshake, Funeral for a friend – Casually dressed and deep in conversation, Frank turner – Sleep is for the weak, Cooper temple clause – See this through and leave, Biffy clyro – Infinity land, Bronx – Bronx, Jose Gonzales – Veneer, Kasabian – Kasabian, Slipknot – Slipknot, A – Hifi serious, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever….., The offspring – Ixnay on the Hombre, Gaslight anthem – 59 sound, Yourcodenameis:milo – Ignoto, Longcut – A call and a response, Interpol – Turn on the bright lights, Gallows – Orchestra of Wolves, The music – the music, The Darkness – Permission to land, Rival schools – United by fate

Sadly the 2011 list is in my old teachers planner in a cupboard in England and I skipped 2012 for reasons unknown

But for 2013: Foo Fighters – The colour and the shape, At the drive in – Relationship of Command, Frank turner – Sleep is for the weak, Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse, Levellers – Levelling the Land, Million dead – Harmony no harmony, Nirvana – Nevermind, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever….., Cooper temple clause – See this through and leave, Hell is for heroes – Neon handshake, Jose Gonzales – Veneer,  Longcut – A call and a response, Slipknot – Slipknot, A – Hifi serious, Bloc Party – Silent Alarm,  Courteneers – Falcon, The Darkness – Permission to land, The Wombats – This Modern Glitch, Yourcodenameis:milo – Ignoto, The streets – Original Pirate Material, The Music – The Music, My Vitriol – Finelines, The Bronx – The Bronx 1, Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg, Jamie T – Kings and Queens, Hope of the States – The Lost Riots, Gaslight Anthem – 59 Sound, Funeral for a Friend – Casually dressed and deep in Conversation, Enter Shikari – Common Dreads, Maccabees – Colour it in, Oasis – Whats the story morning glory

Posted by: markhowell101 | November 2, 2013

Land Art, Seychelles style

For a while I have been meaning to take the time out to do something different with regards to fieldwork. I am getting pretty adept at the traditional geography data collection type fieldwork but wanted to try something with a more creative edge. Recently at school we collapsed the timetable for a week of lessons with an environmental focus and this gave me the chance to do this. The original inspiration for this came from the Geosculpture page of the Staffordshire Learning Net and the work of Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long. Luckily my head is also an artist and had completed work of this kind in the past. He was therefore able to give me some wisdom on how best to carry it out.

We started with a short class session where we showed some work of the artists above. We told the students that the work would not be permanent but that they would take photos which would last forever. As an added incentive we said that the best 3 would be made into canvasses and put onto my classroom wall. We chose to do the work on the beach as it sort of presented a blank canvas on which to work. When we arrived at the beach the students were briefed and given 20 minutes to scavenge for materials. Many students already had ideas on arrival but we stressed that they could not make firm decisions on what to do until they had the materials. They then had to sketch a plan of what they wanted the work to look like and consider what to use for each element. They then had 2 hours to create their work, scavenge for any additional materials and photograph. As a follow up they spent some class time selecting the best photo and editing it to be entered into the competition for the best 3.

Below are the best results, see what you think:


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Posted by: markhowell101 | January 13, 2013

Protected: What’s it like to teach in the Seychelles???

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Posted by: markhowell101 | June 20, 2012

Music in geography lessons

Not sure what most school’s policies are on listening to music in lessons but we don’t let students. When I first started we did and it was common to see KS4 groups around the school sat working with headphones in often working very hard in their own little worlds. Certainly many of us know how music can improve focus and enthusiasm and spark creativity in many many case (he says sat writing this whilst listening to the Manic Street Preachers) . This proved problematic as many students took liberties and used their devices for other purposes ‘whilst they had them out’.

It was rare that I let students listen to their headphones during the time they were not banned as I was new to the school and still trying to find my feet so playing things with a pretty straight bat with regards to classroom management. I have since the ban experimented with having the radio on in some select classes whilst students work but found mixed results with this. Many students use it as an opportunity but others would rear their heads between songs to complain about the selection offered by Radio 1 – me included at times. This is therefore something I have not done in a while.

So I wanted to compile a playlist for geography teachers with decent tunes with a geography influence which could be played in class. Sadly despite owning somewhere near 1000 CD’s (15 days worth of music on iTunes) I could find only a handful of songs which would fulfil the above criteria. Also many songs be not actually be used in class due to ‘language’ issues so some of the following are fairly tongue in cheek. Some have lyrics which could act as a starter others could use the video to help. A couple of these are only useful with the video so I have linked to the videos for those tracks. Feel free to contribute to the list….

My one useful and useable track was…

The Enemy – We’ll live and die in these towns (problems of inner city deprivation)

3 good videos I have used are…..

Green Day / U2 – Hurricane Katrina Response

Oasis – The Masterplan – Inner City area

Chemical Brother – Star Guitar (Urban zones and changing urban landscapes)

Thanks to where I originally got those 3

Not so serious, but maybe of use but in some cases a shame that choice language stops them being useable….

A – Old Folks (problems of an ageing population)

Arctic Monkey – When the sun goes down (problems of inner city deprivation)

Chirs T-T – When the huntsman comes a marchin’ (Rural change)

Levellers – Cholera well (Problems of LEDC lack of development)

Levellers – Cardboard box city (Homelessness in MEDC cities)

Maximo Park – The coast is always changing (The fact that processes change the coastline)

Its got the title but not much else….

Manic Street Preachers – Tsunami

Manic Street Preachers – Australia

…and you will know us by the trail of dead…. – Monsoon

Battles – Atlas

Bedouin Soundclash – Immigrant Workforce

Biffy Clyro – Mountains

Bruce Springsteen – The River

The Cooper Temple Clause – The Lake

Frank Turner – Rivers

The Gallows – The Riverbank

The Gallows – The Riverbed

Hundred Reasons – Avalanche

Hundred Reasons – Savanna

Incubus – Mexico

Interpol – NYC

Maximo Park – Limassol

Pearl Jam – Oceans

Kid Harpoon – Riverside

Kings of Leon – Arizona

The Kooks – Seaside

Levellers – Riverflow

Placebo – English summer rain

The Stone Roses – Waterfall

Temper Trap -Down river

The Vines – In the jungle

The Vines – Rainfall

Yeah yeah yeahs – Maps

30 Seconds from mars – Hurricane

I noticed there is almost enough songs about Rivers there to do a hydrological cycle using this list. Maybe a lesson in there somewhere.

As ever anything else to add to the list would be great.

Posted by: markhowell101 | June 14, 2012

Perspectives of a geographer recently observed by OFSTED

Whilst this perspective will offer nothing to senior members of staff within a school I thought I would offer a brief perspective on my recent OFSTED inspection at ordinary geography teacher in classroom level. Whilst this will clearly be out of date in not very long I thought that it might offer people one or two ideas if you happen to have an inspection in the not too distant future.

As a bit of background, I was observed in a tandem observation by both the head and the HMI lead inspector. It was one of 4 such observations done across the school in order to standardise and verify the judgements made by the school. The lesson itself was a revision session for year 11’s as I had finished teaching the course and was therefore in the fortunate position that I could get away with teaching anything and did not have to really worry about sequence as the lesson could be a one off targeting revision on a specific topic from any point in the last 2 years. The group in question vary in target grades from D to A* but in general are two thirds B or above candidates. It was a very hot afternoon in the world’s hottest classroom and my best efforts to justify a practical lesson based on the idea of what it would be like to live and work in a desert fell on deaf ears.

The lesson I delivered in the end was a recap on development indicators with a focus on mapping development and how to interpret such maps, something some of my students had struggled with in some prior past papers. On the OCR B course it seems that questions on this subject ion the exam may focus on simple interpretation but may go as far as students suggesting problems with or benefits of a given development map.

The lesson began with a simple development indicator starter. Students given a list of a few indicators and asked to interpret their meaning and what we can learn from each. This was of course differentiated with weaker students interpreting mostly conventional ones (GDP per capita, life expectancy etc) whilst the more able were given more abstract and complex ones (TV’s per 1000 etc). They were given 5 minutes to interpret these and we then had a brief discussion about the use of such statistics. It was during this discussion, around 7 minutes into the lesson that the observer came in and headed to the back of the lesson. I provided her with the seating plan, context sheet etc and took the opportunity at the end of the discussion to recap the learning objectives and suggest that we had already achieved the first one (To be able to interpret a range of development indicators and maps – C grade). The other 2 objectives were  set at B grade (To explain the problems and benefits of using certain indicators and maps) and at A/A* (To  be able to critically evaluate  the validity of certain development maps), although I took this opportunity to suggest to students that at the very top end the ability to offer critique on some development maps was beyond GCSE level and therefore would allow all students within the group to work beyond target.

I moved on to the main task in which each table was given 4 development map which they had to interpret. They were to identify areas of high and low development on the map and then offer some uses and problems with their maps. The students were in mixed ability groups of 4 and whilst they were told to work together on the task each student was to take ownership of the map they had been given. During feedback they would have to feedback on their map if their table was selected. I felt that this ensured that all students participated in the activity rather than just 2 or 3 within the group doing all the work. It also meant that I could allocate maps based on ability, giving the least able on each table a straightforward map (perhaps of GDP per capita or the HDI) and the more able a more complex or abstract map (like the happy planet index map or the Facebook connection map shown below). Students were given some basic information about what the map showed but were generally left to figure that out for them selves.

Students were given around 10 – 15 minutes to complete this task during which time I circulate as did the head and the HMI. The HMI also spoke to me regarding my rational for the lesson, why had I given certain student certain maps etc.

A discussion then followed where I directed certain table to feed back about their maps. Others were encouraged to contribute or challenge the views put across. This discussion lasted around 10 minutes.

Finally students were given some exam style questions about a map they had not yet seen during the lesson (Brandt line) and asked to interpret it and then explain any problems they can see with this. This was completed in timed conditions and then peer assessed. We discussed how such questions would be marked (this close to the exam students are well versed in that) and we modelled some answers which students had felt achieved full marks. There was a quick review of how many marks students had picked up and bar one or two exceptions all had scored maximum marks.

The above is not meant as a guideline for what should be done it merely serves to outline what was done in this case. The result was a grade 1 lesson and what is probably worth noting are the reasons why the HMI graded it that way as it will give people an idea what they were looking for, at least in this case anyway.

The inspector liked that pitch of the lesson with students all able to achieve something beyond their target grade and she liked my emphasis that at the top end the work was more like A-Level than GCSE. She thought that the method of differentiation was good giving students work at their level but as she said by allowing them to work together ‘cross-fertilisation’ occurred where the more able and less able shared ideas. An unexpected positive comment was that she liked the social and spiritual ideas which came out in discussion. There had been some talk during discussion of human rights and whether blocking websites like Facebook was a denial of a rights and also whether all people across the world want development and this was an aspect which was praised although I have to admit not something I had especially planned to occur. A final positive worth noting was that she liked the discussion and questioning that took place and whilst it is difficult to pin down why my questioning / discussion style worked, she said that she liked it when students were asked to paraphrase the answer of a peer and then extent it. Asking questions like are there any aspects of students X’s answer that you thought were especially good or any aspects you disagree with she said was particularly useful.

As ever I hope this will help someone draw their ideas together for OFSTED. Clearly on any given day with a different group, time of year, inspector, star alignment etc the grading may have been different but the above outlines so strategies on the classroom which a very recent inspection verified as being ‘good and then some’.

Posted by: markhowell101 | June 4, 2012

Coastal fieldwork methods – Where to start

Having run several coastal field trips now I thought I would compile a run down of all the techniques I have used with a bit of a review of their success, what groups they are good for, the likely results, how to present the data and how to go about doing them. When I first embarked on field trips I found limited information on the internet about specific methods that would work and how successful the students would be at each. It is my hope that someone finds this useful in putting together their own trip. I will add to this as time goes by and I try alternative methods.

General Advice

  • Pick the methods to suit you group – you will know what will work and what will not
  • Pick the methods that will give the right results to answer your question set. If this is for a controlled assessment task this is of course very important, whilst at KS3 you may have more leeway to design a question to suit the methods you want to use.
  • Practice the methods before you go, it makes a massive difference if they already know how to do it before you get there. This could range from counting breaking waves on a youtube video, to measuring pebbles brought in from your drive to measuring the slope of the hill on the school field with poles and clinometers.

Beach profiling

A great piece of fieldwork which always yields decent results in my experience. Select 2 or 3 locations along a stretch of coastline and get students to profile the beach at each location. Make sure you invest in trundle wheels rather than tape measures as in the wind the tape gets destroyed very easily. You will need ranging poles of course and clinometers but the process itself is straightforward and the students usually enjoy working as a team of 4 or 5 to get the results fo this. Absolutely essential to practice this with the students before the day, I always take them out to an undulating bit of the school field to have a go at this in advance. When back in class it is easy for the students to draw up the results and come to good conclusions about the types of waves and processes at each location. I have found that even the weakest GCSE students can access all elements of this piece of fieldwork but would not attempt this with a key stage 3 group unless they are a particularly small / sensible group.

Pebble Analysis

Again a simple piece of fieldwork and one that yields good results which are accessible for students right from key stage 3 to key stage 5. Students again visit a number of sites this time measuring the size of pebbles found and, using a rock matrix record the angularity of those pebbles. Below is the matrix I have used over the past 3 years. I encourage students to try to measure the angularity numerically but some, especially weaker students prefer to classify. Students come up with their own way of random sampling and this I discuss in the lessons in advance, we also have a practice with a sample of pebbles in the classroom before we go. The key is to ensure that students get a large enough sample, 20 at least, otherwise trends are difficult to find. The display of this data works well in scattergraph or box plot format although for the weaker students bar graphs for the various classifications works ok. I have found that the key geography here (the idea of rates of attrition, linked to destructive waves) is accessible to top end key stage 3 students and almost all students at GCSE level.

Field sketches

A very straightforward way to get students to try to interpret features which you might see at the coast. This works well at all key stages and is great for controlled assessment as it allows students to revisit the sketches once back in class and add annotations of the features. As a back up plan make sure you take photos too, I find many students will produce poor sketches in the field, or time constraints mean that they don’t produce much and many students benefit from copying a projected image once back in class. If possible allow  a good amount of time for this in the field and provide students with a clipboard to help them do it.

Long Shore Drift

Measuring long shore drift is a difficult process during a one day fieldwork visit. I have experimented with a number of ways to do this and perhaps the best is very simple (although whether it does actually measure LSD is open to debate). What I have done in the past is place 2 posts 10 meters apart along the coast, parallel to the sea. Then at one post I throw an orange directly out to sea (biodegradable, bright and it floats) we then time how long it takes for the orange to float past the second post. This has yielded decent results for me in the past as if you have a strong rip it is likely that long shore drift will also be taking place however I think I have been lucky with my results in the past and this could of course produce peculiar or misleading results if you went on a given day. The whole issue of bad results is not actually too much of a problem as it allows students to easily find fault with their fieldwork in an evaluation if one is required. There are further issues with the above fieldwork as it may present a problem with risk assessments and safety. Many people will specify in their risk assessments that students do not go past high water mark (I know I do) and this creates a problem in places with a large tidal range if you are there at low tide. In the past I have had to trek down to the sea on my own to carry out this experiment leaving the students with other staff further up the beach. All in all a fairly hit or miss task, would be interested to hear any advice on this.

Wave counts

A very simple process of counting waves for a set period of time at each location. Clearly this is wildly open to error but I find all students can make the link between the number of waves and the nature of them. I start by showing the 2 videos below in class and we talk about constructive and destructive waves, what they look like and how many we are likely to get in a minute. Presenting the data for this is very easy indeed, maybe even just a bar graph and I find students of all ages and abilities can draw meaning from the results and relate it back to their ideas in class. Again the results could be warped on any particular day but again this allows the students to evaluate this piece of fieldwork.

As I said above I hope this helps someone get started. I will blog in the coming weeks about some of the urban fieldwork I have tried and tested but hopefully this enables people to get off the ground with their coastal work.

Posted by: markhowell101 | October 31, 2011

The High Line

When you look at this photo, what is the first thing that comes to mind??? Where do you think it was taken???

Well your wrong, it was taken right in the middle on Manhattan just last week and not in Central Park. It was taken on New York’s newest tourist attraction, the High Line which runs from the Meatpacking District (Gansevoot), through the Art Gallery District and finishes in Midtown (11th Av and 25th Street). The project has turned an abandoned railway line into a designated park space filled with grasses, trees and some open picnic spaces. The series of pictures below shows the park and its surroundings, it makes for quite a unique location.

I read about the High Line 2 weeks before my trip to New York and was really interested by this clever and unique use of public space. Firstly, along the High Line is a smattering of market stalls selling sustainable produce and locally grown and sources items, many of which claim to have been sourced on Manhattan itself. In the place so obsessed with mass production and economies of scale it was refreshing to see tiny independent retailers selling genuine local items.

However, the High Line has done more than just add a small open space and sustainability to New York it was clear to me that it is being used to try and regenerate an area of some urban decay. At its farthest point south the High Line runs through what seems a reasonably affluent area with the Meatpacking District having a range of high end shops and expensive apartments (for reference this is where Friends was set). However as you walk north along the park the apartments around the line decline in quality until you reach the area furthest north, near the bus depot and Madison Square Garden, not famously a high end part of New York. In this area the High Line is being used as a selling point for a range of new properties which are quickly being put up. Alongside the park were several clearly brand new blocks of apartments, as yet with nobody living in them and several more being built. All of them were adorned with huge signs advertising the properties fantastic view of the High Line, not their view of the skyline of Manhattan. Clearly this is a new USP for these properties as it is unlikely that they would of been advertising a view of an abandoned railway line.  These new properties seemed much larger and modern than those around them and would clearly fetch a much higher asking price and therefore a higher earning tenant, increasing income levels and reducing deprivation levels in this area.

The High Line was an excellent new attraction to visit and whilst it remains to be seen if it has any impact on the area it certainly seemed popular with tourists and New Yorkers alike. Well worth a visit.

Posted by: markhowell101 | September 4, 2011

Stratford and the Olympic site – Urban regeneration case study



I have been teaching the ongoing redevelopment of Stratford in London as a case study of urban regeneration for 2 years. As I am sure you are all aware the area is undergoing huge changes for the Olympics next year as 6 major sports stadiums, an athletes village and a media centre are all being built. The hope is that the redevelopment will bring with it further investment into the area and there are already signs of this with the large Westfield shopping centre being constructed right by the Olympic site. Having recently visited the site with a group of students I thought I would add a few thoughts to a case study that I am sure many people are teaching.

Prior to the Olympic bid Stratford was one of London’s more deprived areas, not a no go zone by any means but unemployment rates were high income was low, housing quality was pretty poor etc. The case study lends itself well to both GCSE and A-Level specs as a lot is being done to ensure the sustainability of these games and clearly the current exam specs have a real focus on sustainability. The world marvelled in 2008 when the games went to China at the impressive show put on in Beijing but the feeling was that the games in London needed not just to impress but to leave a legacy. The stadiums in China will, in all likelihood, turn into white elephants in the future, seldom seeing use and slowly rotting away. Unfortunately this is the case with a number of events which have preceded it, with the Montreal,  Atlanta and Athens stadiums all being victim of this fate and the 2010 world cup stadiums in South Africa already falling into some state of disrepair. The exception to this doom which has followed after Olympics is Sydney where the games were planned with sustainability in mind, the result is that the venues continue to make money and create jobs for the people. London therefore used the success of Sydney to model their ideas on and tried to adapt as many of the good ideas from those games as possible (I use information on the success of Sydney as a starting point for my GCSE and A-level lessons – which ideas could work for London).

An example of the typical housing and tower blocks in Stratford with stadium behind

With that in mind the London games looks to be sustainable in 3 ways, economic, environment and social. The main aim for the venues is to provide income for the next hundred years. However the capacity for the venues was considered to be too great for events following the Olympics and so the major stadiums were all designed to be partly dismantled after the Olympics to create smaller venues which can be more regularly used. Notably the main athletics stadium is to be reduced from a capacity around 65,000 to nearer 30,000 and will become the home of West Ham football team (although Spurs are doing their best to prevent that from happening). This should create thousands of permanent full and part time jobs in the area and this should help to provide a better economic situation in Stratford as the multiplier effect kicks in and local businesses benefit from higher rates of employment and increased tourists and visitors. A major issue for the games was the environment and so a vast area of parkland has been created around the area to offset the damage created by the stadiums. Local waterways, much of which have suffered with environmental pollution, have also been improved to encourage wildlife back into the area. Certainly on out visit we saw evidence of this with canals far from the stadiums looking to have oil and other deposits on the surface and lots of rubbish floating around, whereas waterways nearer the games were cleaner, with green algae floating on the surface and resurfaced towpath’s. The games also wanted to create the minimal carbon footprint possible and this is to be achieved by retailers within the park selling food and drink in biodegradable containers and supplies will be sourced from local producers wherever possible to keep air miles etc to a minimum. To ensure social sustainability the games is looking to not disrupt and hopefully improve the day to day lives of those in the area. Previous games, notably Barcelona, have brought the host city to a standstill during the event and London was keen for this not to happen. To ensure this, public transport in the area has been greatly improved, an infrastructure which will clearly last well beyond the games, and public transport costs have been reduced for those with tickets to events to try to encourage most people to travel to the games by train and not by car. Additionally the athletes village will be converted into affordable homes after the games many of which will be set aside for those in ‘key’ occupations such as nurses and teachers. 

So what has been the impact of all these developments? Well clearly the true impact will only be realised in the years after the games have happened, but already Stratford show signs of improvement. Beyond the Westfield shopping centre, residential developments like the one below have begun to spring up in the area, with the whole Stratford area looking like a construction site at present with high end residential and commercial properties appearing. Indeed the architect I spoke to on our visit was saying how the area was now experiencing an influx of higher earners and city types and with that bars and cafe’s in the area were profiting from new customers with higher incomes. So clearly even with a year to go before the games, many people in the area are beginning to benefit from the changes.

An example of the sort of modern development taking place in Stratford

However, clearly the problem like with many urban redevelopments is what has become of the people who previously lived in the area who are no longer able to afford the rents being charged by landlords. Well, i didnt take us long to find out that what is being done in nothing. On our way out of Stratford we stopped at a McDonalds, located a stones throw from the stadium, and sat outside was a group of ‘hoodies’ in their late teens and early twenties. Perhaps not very wisely I decided to talk to them about what impacts the developments were having on them. All of them agreed through some conversation that the improvements did nothing to improve their lives with one or two commenting that lower income jobs were now harder to find in the area (especially part time jobs for teenagers) and council housing was in short supply as many tower blocks were being shut down and demolished to make way for new developments. Simply put, many of the poorer residents of Stratford are being marginalised, losing work and having to leave the area.

Clearly this example is more complex than I could ever outline in a blog post and this serves as just a simple outline of what is taking place there. Hopefully this will help some people feel a little more informed when teaching this case study or simply debating the concept of redevelopment or gentrification. If anybody would like any of the resources I use for teaching this at A-Level or GCSE please feel free to email me at

As ever thankyou for reading.


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