“It’s amazing to see students achieve their potential”
Ewan Laurie is a Geography Teacher and Assistant Head Teacher at Guildford High School
Tell us about your work as a teacher
I have worked in a variety of different roles in secondary schools and recently I’ve taken on the responsibility of leading academic enrichment at my school. We have devised a parallel programme of skill development and innovative content that aims to feed curiosity, develop creativity and collaboration, and encourage our pupils to find their passion. I have a PhD in stratigraphy from the University of Greenwich and Natural History Museum, so I mostly teach geography and research skills. The latter is delivered via the Extended Project Qualification, which allows sixth form students to investigate an issue of their choice. It’s a great way to develop their independence, problem solving, and decision making. In anticipation of the new Natural History GCSE, due for launch in 2025, I also teach our Year 9 natural history course, which we created from scratch for 2023. The course covers aspects of Earth history and the fossil record. We’re only a couple of months in, but it is being received well.
Tell us about the current state of geology in schools
Geology has struggled for space on crowded curricula and financial pressures have made this more difficult. There is less emphasis on geology in geography and the core sciences than there used to be, so many pupils aren’t aware of geology as an option. I manage to fit quite a lot of geology in, but there is significant stipulated content to cover in GCSEs and A-Levels, so there isn’t much time available for going off piste. At my school, we’re using the academic enrichment programme and the natural history lessons to fill the gaps.
The landscape of secondary education in the UK seems set to undergo some fairly large changes in the coming decade, so we should look to seize any opportunity to increase the amount of geological content included in relevant courses. The Society and organisations like the Earth Science Teachers’ Association could promote the versatility of the subject to encourage students to pursue geology at university level. If Fellows reading this could volunteer time at careers evenings or similar events in their local schools, that would also open students’ eyes to the opportunities within our field.
What advice would you give to aspiring teachers?
It’s very rewarding, but quite intense – those longer holidays have to be earned. Teachers need energy and a passion for their subject. Teaching sits somewhere between an art and a science. We’ve learned lots about memory and cognition in the past decade, which feeds into the modern classroom, but there still needs to be a human connection to light a spark in a teenage brain. If you are interested in finding out what it’s like, contact your local school and ask to shadow someone for a day.
What’s a typical day for you?
There are the core responsibilities, like planning and teaching lessons, providing pastoral support, and giving advice, which happen day in, day out. Then there are more specific events. For example, I’m planning a three-week sixth form expedition to Tanzania next summer, in conjunction with a small UK charity that has been active in the region for many years. Our focus is a community education and female empowerment project, and we also hope to trek up a volcano.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
It’s amazing to see students achieve their potential. I’m part of the team that helps sixth form students put together their university applications, and it’s wonderful when they earn the place they have been aiming for, sometimes for years.
Listen to the extended podcast interview with Ewan Laurie here: https://geoscientist.online