Review: Common Entrance 13+ Geography for ISEB CE and KS3
By Dr Andrew Lee, Head of Geography, Wetherby Prep School
25 Jun

John Widdowson has been writing geography textbooks for many years, and he has it down to a fine art. Common Entrance 13+ Geography for ISEB CE and KS3 is the new Galore Park textbook that complements the CE specification set for commencement of teaching in 2021. Simon Lewis’ new syllabus (the Chief Geography setter) aims to reduce rote learning, promote understanding, to leverage the illustrative potential of case studies to provide insight and context, and to introduce a new topic that has existed in the past streamed through the course, but which now stands alone in ‘Environment.’ The specification thematic areas have also now been formally renamed as: Tectonics, Meteorology, Geomorphology, Demography, Economy and Environment. 

Common Entrance 13+ Geography for ISEB CE and KS3 uses some of the conventions set in past editions, including topic prefaces asking pupils to look at each topic in a broader context and then asks pupils to consider the ‘big questions,’ in each topic area. This has always been an excellent approach, because young geographers need to be able to become familiar with zooming into topics and out of them so they understand geography at a range of scales and contexts. 

Together with Galore Park, the text is an impressive book, comprehensive, yet not insurmountable weighing in at a manageable single volume of 178 pages. Which is not bad for what should be two years’ work, but which is often taught over three. The key to this book’s success is Widdowson’s economy of writing; he has an ability to write without verbiage, in text which is still buoyant, enjoyable and accessible. The edition also provides much more topic detail for teachers to use as springboards for a deeper and more engaging understanding of topics. 

Widdowson is able to distil complex ideas in simple and straightforward prose, which should be the aim of all geographical writing. This along with excellent, consistently drawn, clear and unambiguous diagrams (including ingenious cutaways, sequenced imagery, Ordnance Survey maps and map/photograph montages) make this book an excellent tool for delivering the curriculum, either in the classroom or when pupils are reviewing the text independently. 

Using case studies, Widdowson demonstrates how to draw conclusions from examples used, supporting higher order thinking skills. Moreover, the thematic case studies are now deeply embedded into chapters as apt exemplars of how to ‘read the world.’ There are also interesting activities for pupils including those designed to help learners for whom writing might be difficult eg promoting the use of mind mapping, along with other projective exercises promoting geographical empathy/compassion. Differentiation is enabled by having a range of terms and concepts of different levels of complexity subtly identified in each chapter. 

The new chapter on Environment is a comprehensive overview of the topic ranging from National Parks through to factors affecting climate change, with detailed maps and inventories of areas of concern and the implicit connection with carbon emissions. The big question here, understandably, is: ‘What can we do?’

Common Entrance 13+ Geography for ISEB CE and KS3 offers a comprehensive, up to date and compelling course through the 2021 CE specification. Pupils will find the book an empowering, edifying and enjoyable way to develop their geographical knowledge and sense of agency in the world. 

Dr Andrew Lee DPhil (Oxon) FRGS CGeog Head of Geography, Wetherby Prep School

Learn more about the new Geography textbook in author John Widdowson’s blog post about the new edition and how it aligns to the new specification. Plus, download a free sample or order online here.

Tags: 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, CE, CE 13+, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, Geography, Geography for Common Entrance, Independent School Examination Board, ISEB, John Widdowson, Key Stage 3, Review

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