There's no such thing as boring Geography... just boring geography teachers

Last updated at 08:07 21 January 2008

Here's one to shock the Education Secretary, if we still had one. (He's now called the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.) Schoolkids are not interested in geography, a subject they find boring, according to a downbeat report from Ofsted, the schools inspectorate.

Question: Is there such a thing as an upbeat Ofsted report? How about: "Schools are enjoying a craze for mental arithmetic, which students have begun to find lubricates their rusting brains." No?

It seems that teachers are too afraid of organising field trips because of health 'n' safety and all that. Quite how an understanding of the grain exports situation in Western Australia can be enhanced and enlivened by a tramp across Hackney Marshes on a wet Wednesday I have no idea, but there we are.

Where you have bored schoolchildren, I have often found, you have boring schoolteachers.

I would have thought this was a boom time for ramming geography down impressionable throats. I mean, given Planet Earth's climate change, dwindling resources, melting icebergs, stranded polar bears, threatened whales and colonies of fruit-eating bats driven out of South American rainforests chopped down for firewood, what more do they want?

When I was at school, my four favourite subjects were English, scripture, history - and geography. Geometry, physics and technical drawing could throw themselves into the Mississippi (the longest river in America, as I happened to know) for all I cared.

But when it came to geographical facts, I was quite the little Gradgrind.

In Western Australia, much grain is to be found. In New Zealand, many sheep are to be got. Red Indians are to be seen in America. Real ones are to be seen in India. The capital of Alaska is Juneau (no, not Anchorage - you can win bets on that).

I do my old geography teacher, Mr Lyle (known to the class, inevitably, as Sticky Lyle) a disservice. He would transform dry facts about Western Australia's grain exports into an epic voyage from one hemisphere to another via the Panama Canal, culminating in Liverpool Docks and then proceeding by road across the Pennines to be bundled into small samples for exhibition and examination at the market day auction in Leeds Corn Exchange.

My school did not go in for field trips, otherwise Sticky Lyle would undoubtedly have escorted his flock to the gallery of the Corn Exchange, to watch Western Australia's grain cargo on the last stage of its transworld journey.

He was therefore spared from learning - as I was myself to learn years later, as a young reporter - that the grain samples pored over by the market day chandlers in the Corn Exchange would have come from no further than the East Riding cornfields a few miles out of Leeds.

No matter. To keep a class of unruly 12-year-olds enthralled over the travels, imaginary or otherwise, of a few lorry-loads of grain, must have taken some doing. It is certainly not being done by today's intake of teachers whose charges find their geography lessons "boring".

Note that I say they find their lessons boring; not that geography in itself is boring. I remember speaking to an East African boy who didn't want to go back home because he found his homeland "boring". So who's really boring - East Africa or an East African boy educated in England?

End of a Vera

Liz Dawn, creator of the immortal Vera Duckworth in Coronation Street, was raised on the same South Leeds council estate as me. So what millions of viewers take to be the authentic Corrie Street accent is, to me, authentic Wykebeck Arms, our old local's answer to the Rovers Return.

When I say immortal, of course the fictitious Vera breathed her last a few days ago, after 30-odd years in the Street. A pity that script requirements couldn't allow Liz a deathbed scene - she (and we) would have relished that.

Instead, we had Jack Duckworth's soliloquy to his dead wife when he comes back from the Rovers to find that she has gone peacefully to a better place than even Blackpool.

Bill Tarbey gave us a beautifully under-played performance that told the story of their lives in a few restrained moments. Rival soaps must be eating their hearts out.

Jack and Vera were the best double act on the box since Morecambe and Wise, and you can't go higher than that. What a pity that Liz's own real-life illness wouldn't permit a Blackpool spin-off. They would have out-rated even the old Street itself.