Powerful Geography

A Curriculum with purpose in practice

By: Mark Enser


Or purchase digital products from our partners:


Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 192
ISBN : 9781785835117
Format: Paperback
Published: January 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!


  3. Powerful Geography provides the reader with a clear and subject-specific approach to thinking about curriculum design and delivery in geography. A must-read for both novice and expert teachers alike.
  4. Powerful Geography is a well-structured, insightful and in-depth analysis of geography teaching. It is based on current research within a broader analysis of delivering a curriculum that is powerful and that has a clear purpose of “doing geography” linked to putting ideas into practice. 

    In a free-flowing style, Mark Enser engages the reader in an analysis and a far-ranging discussion on the role and content of the geography curriculum, challenging the lack of purpose that the “anything is geography” model poses. Mark's ideas for a powerful and purposeful geography curriculum - linked to greater analysis and thinking in greater depth about the world, and organised in terms of threshold, core and hinterland content - will inspire many teachers to extend their vision regarding the purpose of geography education. Mark includes some discussion on current practice by other school practitioners, and this is beneficial in helping the reader to reflect on application in practice. 

    In addition to an insightful review of the structure of the geography curriculum, Mark also provides some valuable guidance and tips on strategies to promote knowledge and understanding. In this respect, readers will find the discussion on the use of retrieval techniques beneficial. Furthermore, those readers who have knowledge of Guy Claxton's Learning Power Approach will note that this links well with strategies regarding the development of a culture of enquiry and creating “the need to know”. 

    Overall, Powerful Geography is an insightful, stimulating and thought-provoking book which addresses how teachers of geography can promote a curriculum with purpose. It outlines opportunities for critical engagement, challenge for learners and programmes of study in response to drivers of change, in an effort to raise awareness of how to improve the world for the next generations. A must-read for all teachers of geography.
  5. By applying sound educational theory to curriculum practice, Powerful Geography does precisely what the teaching profession needs more of. Drawing on a range of educational ideas, old and new, Mark Enser takes the reader beyond the traditional-progressive divide to explore questions of the purpose of geography education, different approaches to teaching the subject, how to sequence a curriculum, how to select places to study, and how to respond to calls for the curriculum to be driven by political objectives. In doing so, he brings the disciplinary focus back into the geography curriculum and shows teachers how to nurture geographical thinking in their students.   
  6. This is an original and very welcome book. Mark Enser has fully grasped the nature of powerful knowledge and the three futures approach to thinking about the geography curriculum. These are not analytical concepts that result in recipes for teachers to follow; they are heuristics, developed to enable thought and action. 

    Enser takes us through his own thoughts and actions in a book that is overtly open, inviting and engaging. Throughout the book, he is thinking out loud about what constitutes high-quality geography in school, and his answer is based on unavoidable and undeniably challenging (and professionally rewarding) curriculum leadership. In short, he sees the vital role of teacher agency in high-quality “curriculum making” guided by a clearly articulated vision of the subject's role in education. In adopting the “garden of peace” as a classroom metaphor, the book is a radical antidote to what David Mitchell calls the hyper-socialised conditions in which curriculum-makers have to work. 

    In producing Powerful Geography, Mark manages to convey a sense of geography's significance in the school curriculum - yet he also acknowledges that it is not the last word, and that debates concerning geography education will continue.  
  7. Powerful Geography powerfully offers geography curriculum leaders and teachers the opportunity to reflect on key curriculum questions and the means to navigate existing geography education scholarship. The curation of contributions from both primary and secondary teachers woven in as case studies perfectly illustrates why thinking deeply and engaging with subject community discourse is vital for empowering teachers in their professional learning and teaching.  
  8. -‹In Powerful Geography, Mark takes us on a journey towards greater clarity about what it means to truly teach this multidisciplinary subject with purpose. As we take this journey with Mark, he provides a convincing evidence-based argument about why geography teachers should take time to reflect on the purpose of their geography curriculum so that it shifts from “anything is geography” to a curriculum that builds the foundations for Future 3, which is a focus on a deeper understanding of our ever-changing world. Along with the reasons for change, Mark provides a wealth of strategies to teach geography with purpose - and the case studies provide a glimpse through the keyhole of these discussions in practice. I highly recommend this book to all geography teachers. 
  9. Powerful Geography is an enjoyable read. It walks you through some relevant, philosophical and theoretical thinking underpinning curriculum development in accessible and engaging ways. Although the book predominantly draws on examples from the secondary phase of education, there is much that is relevant for primary practitioners too.  

    The chapters are usefully augmented by short case studies which help illustrate a range of contexts and application across the phases of education. I think that the sequencing of the chapters helps to build a good case for, and greater understanding of, powerful geography; but, at the same time, Mark Enser leaves the reader with enough supported space to develop their own thinking about the purpose and application of disciplinary knowledge.  

    Powerful Geography is also about empowering teachers: as curriculum-makers, thinkers, subject experts and, most of all, as teachers who can offer the gift of teaching. The value of signature pedagogies such as enquiry and fieldwork are set out with clear rationales as to how they might be purposefully planned for and enacted within a coherent curriculum. Mark identifies some common pitfalls to avoid too, from badly planned enquiry to the notion that knowledge organisers can save the world, and offers gentle warnings throughout to help guide us through the maze of purposeful curriculum development.  
  10. At a time when perhaps we have lost sight a little of who, what and how we teach, Powerful Geography drags us back and unashamedly puts robust curriculum thinking centre stage.

    Mark argues for a knowledge-rich, Future 3 curriculum that has the subject at its heart - and it's easy to see why such powerful geography excites him and his students.-¯He argues for a curriculum rich in fieldwork (as opposed to field trips), robust geographical enquiry and geographic information systems (GIS), where place knowledge is embedded rather than superficial and where content is sequenced to create a narrative for geographical understanding.

    Writing in an engaging and accessible style, Mark manages to pull off the feat of being both theoretically rigorous and eminently practical by sharing case studies from practising teachers and offering signposts to further reading and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

    Essential reading for all teachers of geography, Powerful Geography provides a guide to developing and delivering a curriculum with purpose that supports teachers in realising geography's potential to be a truly powerful subject.-¯ 

Write your own review