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Geology - poor relation?


Ben Topley* wishes university Earth science departments would show a little more support for Geology A-Level...

The idea, put forward by Gordon Neighbour in a Soapbox piece in last year’s March issue (Geoscientist 23.02), that the Geological Society should have greater input into A-Level and GCSE geology courses, is a good one. However I believe the geological community’s overall aim should also be to improve the subject’s value as a science. In this, the community is currently doing itself no favours.


I am a student doing Geology A-Level, with the intention of studying the subject at university (my subjects are Biology, Geography, Geology and Chemistry). Yet I find many university departments of Earth science do not seem to regard A-Level Geology as a useful requirement at all. For example, departments in Russell Group universities tend to ask for one or two science subjects from a list including biology, chemistry, physics and maths. Subjects such as geography, geology and environmental science seem to be sneered at as ‘soft options’.

Why do we voluntarily insult our own subject in this way? I believe the current Geology A-Level (from the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)) can hold its own, any day, with a chemistry or physics A-Level, which in fact cover very little if any maths, or confine themselves to basics. The idea – or prejudice - that students must do chemistry, physics and maths at all costs in order to be deemed worthy of studying geology in Higher Education is a piece of inverse academic snobbery that is frankly no longer tenable. The status of geology as a subject would be greatly enhanced, were geology included among its own prime requirements, especially if this fact were communicated to students at an early stage, while they are still making decisions that will ultimately lead to their choice of A-Level.


Indeed, in common with many students in my position, I believe that taking a route embracing geography and biology will, if anything, better prepare us for tackling a geology degree. Maths, chemistry and physics should not be prioritised, in the way they currently are, as ‘must have’ qualifications. Only a basic knowledge of these subjects is actually required to understand geology, and most universities nowadays routinely offer top-up/refresher courses across the board for any students who need remedial work. Providing a student has good-enough grades in other science subjects, especially geology, I feel confident – such is my own experience to date at least - that they will be perfectly able to deal with whatever maths, physics and chemistry that geology is ever likely to throw at them.

Why do ourselves down? Students studying geology are quite the equal of those with maths, physics and chemistry, and will be even better placed, surely, to do well in their first year in Higher Education. Until we recognise the value of our own subject, how can we – indeed, why should we - expect others to?

* Ben Topley is an A Level student and a Junior Candidate Fellow.