Ofsted reveals concerns over primary school geography

Inspectorate warns that almost half of the schools it focused on last year were not meeting the national curriculum

Rob Griffin

Ofsted has revealed concerns it has over the way primary school geography is being taught.

Ofsted has warned that close to half the outstanding rated primary schools it inspected over their geography teaching were not meeting the scope or ambition of the national curriculum.

In a summary of subject-focused inspection reports, looking at how the subject was taught in primary schools, the watchdog also found that very few teachers had been trained to teach the subject.

These findings have been published today in a blog by Iain Freeland, Ofsted’s HMI subject lead for geography.

It is based on 23 geography subject inspections of primary schools carried out between January and March 2020.  The schools were selected at random and were graded as outstanding at their most recent inspection. 

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History: 8 key findings from Ofsted primary school inspections

Here are the key findings:

1. Lack of geography training for teachers

Very few teachers had been trained in teaching geography in the schools that Ofsted inspected.

The watchdog found that some teachers remembered a brief session on the subject as part of their initial training.

In some cases, the lack of a background in geography led to teachers not drawing out important geographical concepts or introducing errors, Ofsted has said.

2. Important geographical skills lacking

The inspectorate said that some skills, such as using maps, atlases, globes, digital mapping, using aerial photographs, using Ordnance Survey maps and devising maps were not taught particularly well.

It added: “When pupils were constructing their own plans or maps, these often lacked the accuracy or conventions followed by geographers, such as the use of scale.”

Ofsted said that pupils often struggled to recall places they had studied, including the principal cities of the United Kingdom and major world oceans. It also found that “very few showed a good appreciation of scale”.

3. Schools not meeting the national curriculum

Just under half of the schools didn’t meet the scope or ambition of the national curriculum, according to the new blog.

In the majority of cases, the most significant gaps were in key stage 2. However, Ofsted said headteachers were aware of this and, in almost all schools, plans were in place for improvement.

“The vast majority of the schools we inspected were significantly revising their curriculum plans for geography,” added the blog.

4. Fieldwork concerns

The watchdog said it believes fieldwork is vital to geographical practice but found it to be weak at KS2 in many of the schools inspected.

It said: “That’s not to say that pupils did not visit different places but, when they did, they did not make the observations or collect data that they could analyse and present their findings.”

Fieldwork was found to be much stronger in the early years and KS1.

5. Very few primaries worked with secondary schools

The blog highlighted how very few schools were working with secondary schools – or junior and middle schools, in the case of infant schools.

It added: “This limited the precision with which primary schools set their curriculum goals and make sure pupils are properly prepared for the next phase of education.”

However, the report also recognises “many strengths” in the teaching of geography at primary school.


1. Geography teaching in early years is ‘almost universally strong’

The watchdog found teachers to be adept at helping pupils to understand their locality, the wider world and topics such as the weather and seasons.

“Pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities were fully included in the provision for geography,” it stated.

“Teachers and other adults supported these pupils well so that they could access the same content.”

2. Curriculum planning was done well

Overall, the inspectorate found that curriculum planning was well thought through, with clear organisation, to make sure that pupils built on what they had already learned.

It added: “In a few schools where subjects were taught discretely, there were sophisticated links across subjects to make sure there was cohesion across the whole curriculum.”

3. Pupils really enjoyed geography

Ofsted found schools had “a lot to be proud of”, with pupils loving the subject and showing great curiosity about the world around them and the people in it.

Many were passionate about the planet and looking after it – a number told us that they were taking direct action to protect the environment,” added the blog.

4. Geography is an important subject

The blog also emphasised the benefits of children learning the subject, regardless of their age or stage of learning.

Geography helps them to make sense of the world around them and piques their curiosity in places and people,” it read. “Done well, it engages pupils in their world, often spurring them into action, and is fun,” it adds.

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Rob Griffin

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