World view to shrink yet broaden too;Briefing;Document of the month

18th June 1999 at 01:00
In part four of The TES guide to the curriculum review, Sarah Cassidy turns to geography and history

History and geography were among the subjects which attracted controversy in the run-up to the publication of the new national curriculum. Both were always set to lose content in the rewrite, and both have attracted the personal attention of Education Secretary David Blunkett.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority quango had been instructed to cut content from all non-core subjects, particularly at primary level where the curriculum was thought to be most overcrowded. However, deciding which topics to slim down proved even more contentious than expected.

In primary geography, about a third of content has been cut. But the most controversial move was the QCA's proposal to scrap the six set maps which currently accompany the curriculum document. Officials say they had no intention of removing the study of maps from the curriculum. However, they proposed that teachers should have the freedom to choose which ones were used.

At present, six compulsory maps are issued by the QCA, showing major cities in the UK, Europe and the world for junior pupils, and then giving more detail for secondary students. But officials reasoned that, in a curriculum intended to increase flexibility, government should not dictate which cities are covered and proposed that teachers should choose their own maps.

However, after a flurry of negative publicity Mr Blunkett intervened to restore the compulsory maps. It has not yet been decided which ones will be included.

The new curriculum attempts to maintain a balance between physical, human and environmental geography.

Infants will no longer have to do an environmental study on the quality of a chosen locality. But the youngest pupils will still be required to study the physical and human features of two contrasting areas, including the school's own neighbourhood. Use of technology becomes statutory for infants for the first time - it is simply suggested at present.

Juniors will also study fewer areas, down from three to two with the removal of the requirement to study the school's neighbourhood. Teachers will also have more flexibility in how these areas are studied.

The four current themes of junior geography - rivers, weather, settlement, and environmental change - are slimmed down with the removal of weather, the reduction of settlement content and the broadening of the rivers topic, which isretitled water and landscape.

The secondary geography curriculum is less affected by the changes. The key stage 3 programme of study is clearer than the existing curriculum and also slightly more flexible. Whereas the current curriculum requires pupils to study two countries other than the UK - to be picked from two lists - the new document allows teachers freedom to choose any two contrasting nations, including the UK.

Sustainable development gets its first explicit listing in the compulsory geography curriculum for all ages. But officials stress that this is nothing new - these subjects are already covered by the present curriculum; they will just be made more explicit.

In history, the controversy revolved around the plan to drop all historical figures and events from the early drafts of the new compulsory curriculum.

Officials say they had always intended to add lists of recommended topics to the statutory curriculum but had not planned to insert them until later.

However, after negative press coverage, Mr Blunkett personally intervened to ensure the recommended lists appeared in the final draft, now out for consultation. Mr Blunkett also insisted that they should be broader than the usual lists of kings and statesmen. The new curriculum recommends that pupils learn about the impact on society of inventors and pioneers such as Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird.

Infants will no longer have to "progress from familiar situations to those more distant in time and place" which was felt to hinder their progress. Research had shown that young children were familiar with story-telling and were happy to move directly to tales of the distant past.

Juniors will still study the same range of topics, but much less compulsory content is prescribed in each. For example, in the Tudors unit teachers are told to cover important personalities and events as well as the everyday lives of people from different sections of society.

The current curriculum demands that pupils learn about Henry VIII and the break with Rome, Elizabeth I and the Armada, and art and architecture, including Shakespeare. Officials estimate that at least a third of compulsory primary content has been removed.

However, QCA monitoring showed that secondary history was seen as the most overloaded. Although no content is removed, topics have been reshaped.

The main change at all key stages is the increased focus on local history and the strengthening of links with European and world history. Use of technology is now compulsory for junior and secondary history.

New schemes of work will be sent to schools next year giving examples of how teachers can take full advantage of the curriculum's new flexibility.

Next week: science

Changes proposed to geography and history


Key stage 1

Pupils investigate their own and a contrasting locality, learning about the environment and the people who live there. They develop awareness of the wider world and learn to ask questions about people, places and environments. They undertake geographical enquiry both inside and outside the classroom, using relevant skills and resources, including maps, photographs, text and technology.

Key stage 2

Pupils investigate people, places and environments at different places in the United Kingdom and overseas. They learn about about interactions between people and their environments, and develop understanding of how places are linked to the wider world. They learn to ask geographical questions and undertake investigations.

Key stage 3 Pupils develop understanding of geographical patterns and processes. They learn to appreciate the significance of political, economic, social and environmental factors affecting geographical issues and to recognise the interdependence of people, places and environments. They learn to use many skills and to draw on a wide range of resources, including maps, texts, satellite images and technology.


Key stage 1 Pupils learn about the lives and lifestyles of people in the recent past, and about famous men, women, children and events in the more distant past, including those from British history. Pupils begin to develop an understanding of change over time by listening and responding to stories, and asking and answering questions using a variety of sources of information.

Key stage 2

Pupils learn about change and continuity in their locality, in the British Isles and other parts of the world. They learn history from a variety of perspectives, such as political, economic, technological and scientific, social, religious, cultural and aesthetic. They use dates and historical vocabulary to place events, people and development in time. Pupils learn about aspects of the past in overview and in depth through enquiry.

Key stage 3

Pupils learn about change and continuity in the economy, society, culture and political structure of Britain from the early Middle Ages to the 20th century. Pupils learn about aspects of European and world history and demonstrate their chronological awareness by making links and connections between historical events and changes in the different periods and areas studied. They use their historical knowledge to evaluate and use sources of information, explaining the different ways in which the past can be interpreted and represented.

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