Local area planning and primary geography
: Enabling children’s active participation in local decision-making through primary geography education in the Republic of Ireland

  • Joe Usher

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


Current research into the consultation of children during local planning processes nationally and internationally points to a misalignment of practices with legislation and policy provision. The benefits to the participation of children in planning processes include better outcomes, as well as educational and personal development benefits for children. The main barriers preventing effective participation of children in planning processes include a failure to recognise children as capable citizens and institutional barriers, particularly a lack of formal procedures. This study aimed to explore if primary geography education could provide a framework through which children would be enabled to participate in the local planning process.

There is a distinct lack of research pertaining to the teaching of geography in primary schools in the Republic of Ireland with no review or large-scale research ever being carried out. Therefore, it was necessary for this study to include a large-scale nationwide survey of Irish primary teachers (N=1,013) to establish clarity on current teaching practices. This survey (with a confidence level of 99% and a 5% margin for error) found Irish primary teachers’ use of child-centred experiential learning methods in their teaching of geography to be limited with teachers neglecting to prioritise the local area. While teachers recognised the importance of the local area to the curriculum, they were found to devote a small number of lessons to it. The main reasons given for this included a lack of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and resources pertaining to the local area.

The literature review and conceptual framework highlighted the potential for incorporating local planning processes into the Irish primary geography curriculum through geographical investigations in, and on, the local area. Two town planners from one county council planning department agreed to consult the children on a local area plan. Five class teachers from two primary schools in the town agreed to participate in a professional learning course designed and delivered by the researcher. These five teachers taught a series of geography lessons to their classes, culminating in the pupils communicating their recommendations for the local plan. These pupils (N=121) were administered with a pre-intervention attitudinal survey in order to establish their attitudes towards geography and also to ascertain their most and least preferred methods of learning geography. Teacher perceptions of the extent to which engaging in this intervention influenced pupil attitudes towards geography were explored in interviews. Findings indicated that pupils are experiencing limited, didactic, textbook-based teaching methods which they do not enjoy, and child-centred experiential teaching methods which they prefer, with teachers perceiving pupil attitudes to improve towards geography upon experiencing the latter.

The five class teachers and the two town planners were interviewed after the intervention. The results of this research show that primary geography education can form a framework through which children are enabled to participate in local area planning processes. This can also achieve a better alignment of policy and practice pertaining to fulfilment of national policy and legislation regarding children’s rights as well as employing best practice in the teaching of geography.
Date of Award11 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsDublin City University
SupervisorIan Cantley (Supervisor) & Katrina Lloyd (Supervisor)


  • Geography
  • Town Planning
  • participation
  • decision-making
  • local area
  • children's participation
  • local area planning
  • primary school
  • primary geography

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