How to tackle the new geography curriculum

In September, the curriculum is changing for key stages 1, 2 and 3. This week, two teachers reveal how they are approaching geography

Tes Editorial


The content for key stage 1 and 2 geography can be seen, at first glance, as a series of lists of what children should be taught and what geographical vocabulary should be referred to. This concise national curriculum document, which does not provide explanations of how to deliver the content, must appear quite daunting to a non-geography specialist or a teacher lacking confidence in their subject knowledge.

However, the new curriculum does allow teachers to be imaginative and to excite pupils about the world they live in.

I am in the process of writing a draft programme of study for my school; to do this I have held discussions to find out what teachers have enjoyed delivering and what pupils have been inspired by.

To build on this opportunity to motivate and engage pupils and staff alike, I have taken on board all comments and tried to blend the new curriculum with existing units that work well. It seems sensible not to overhaul the entire curriculum but to make introductions where necessary and renew resources that are tired and out of date.

I have tried to keep certain units in year groups where staff have expressed an interest. However, the introduction of the study of Europe (including Russia) and the Americas has meant that some units have had to be moved to other year groups or replaced. Where pupil interest (our unit on Pakistan) and staff knowledge (Kenya) was strong, I have tried to keep these topics in our new scheme of work.

I am now looking at developing fieldwork through the use of the school grounds, the immediate local area and localities further afield. I am also researching how to extend our map work through digital mapping - various providers are available so it is important to choose one that will complement our needs.

My aim for September is twofold: for our school to have an exciting, engaging and dynamic geography curriculum that allows a progression of knowledge through each key stage; and for our pupils to be inspired to become geographers of the future.

Joanne Davey is a specialist leader in education for primary geography and a geography coordinator at Holy Trinity Primary School in Halifax, West Yorkshire


The new key stage 3 curriculum offers the challenge and opportunity for secondary school geography departments to revisit dated schemes of work, tired resources, old assessments and assignments.

This is precisely what many schools, including mine, are doing across the country - seeking support, guidance and advice from the professional associations, as well as looking internally at our own situation. As a learning community, we should not be panicked; we should see this as an opportunity and rise to the challenge with quality geography.

The new national curriculum gives greater autonomy to schools and should not be seen as a prescriptive list. In fact, it is a minimum entitlement that should be woven into exciting, engaging and challenging topics that are supported by contemporary and relevant case studies in well-planned schemes of work.

We are currently planning for our 1,200 students in Years 7-9. We have already held several department meetings in which we have thrashed out new ideas. We have critiqued a first and second draft to ensure that there is a progression through the statutory content of the key stage and have embedded a variety of local topics.

For us, a good starting point was to cut the curriculum topics into cards and sequence them on a three-year grid. We have not thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Some topics are already well resourced and extremely well taught, so they may need no attention or only slight modification.

An early departmental audit last October showed that there were other topics that we should ditch. They were outdated and lacking core geographical knowledge. These are being replaced by units that are based on places or themes, which are not necessarily half a term long.

With the introduction of place topics such as Russia and the Middle East, we will not be seeing a return to the regional geography approach of the 1960s and early 1970s that many of us experienced at school - that would be taking the curriculum too literally. Topics such as these, and others such as geomorphology and pedology, need to be taught in exciting, imaginative, creative and accessible ways.

Sure, there are content gaps, but these will be plugged and written throughout the rest of this academic year, ready for first teaching in September. New topics will be openly discussed and we are planning to use departmental meetings for CPD rather than routine administration.

We hope that our approach will encourage large numbers of students to opt for geography at key stage 4 and beyond, as well as preparing them for later life as global citizens.

Maria Larkin is subject leader for geography at Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove, East Sussex

A look inside the new geography curriculum

Key stage 1

Pupils should be taught to:

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