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National Curriculum

Geography - Programme of study

Statutory content

Programme of study for key stage 3

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Download the full programme of study [pdf 2mb]

The programme of learning is made up of:

Importance of Geography

The study of geography stimulates an interest in and a sense of wonder about places. It helps young people make sense of a complex and dynamically changing world. It explains where places are, how places and landscapes are formed, how people and their environment interact, and how a diverse range of economies, societies and environments are interconnected. It builds on pupils’ own experiences to investigate places at all scales, from the personal to the global.

Geographical enquiry encourages questioning, investigation and critical thinking about issues affecting the world and people’s lives, now and in the future. Fieldwork is an essential element of this. Pupils learn to think spatially and use maps, visual images and new technologies, including geographical information systems (GIS), to obtain, present and analyse information. Geography inspires pupils to become global citizens by exploring their own place in the world, their values and their responsibilities to other people, to the environment and to the sustainability of the planet.

Key concepts of Geography

There are a number of key concepts that underpin the study of geography. Pupils need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowledge, skills and understanding.

1.1 Place

  1. Understanding the physical and human characteristics of real places.

  2. Developing ‘geographical imaginations’ of places.

1.2 Space

  1. Understanding the interactions between places and the networks created by flows of information, people and goods.

  2. Knowing where places and landscapes are located, why they are there, the patterns and distributions they create, how and why these are changing and the implications for people.

1.3 Scale

  1. Appreciating different scales – from personal and local to national, international and global.

  2. Making links between scales to develop understanding of geographical ideas.

1.4 Interdependence

  1. Exploring the social, economic, environmental and political connections between places.

  2. Understanding the significance of interdependence in change, at all scales.

1.5 Physical and human processes

  1. Understanding how sequences of events and activities in the physical and human worlds lead to change in places, landscapes and societies.

1.6 Environmental interaction and sustainable development

  1. Understanding that the physical and human dimensions of the environment are interrelated and together influence environmental change.

  2. Exploring sustainable development and its impact on environmental interaction and climate change.

1.7 Cultural understanding and diversity

  1. Appreciating the differences and similarities between people, places, environments and cultures to inform their understanding of societies and economies.

  2. Appreciating how people’s values and attitudes differ and may influence social, environmental, economic and political issues, and developing their own values and attitudes about such issues.

Explanatory text

Place: Every place has unique physical and human characteristics, which can be interpreted and represented in different ways. Pupils have mental images of places – the world, the country in which they live, their neighbourhood – which form their ‘geographical imaginations’. They should recognise that there are many different perceptions of places, some of which may conflict with their own. When investigating a place, pupils should consider where it is, what it is like, how it became like this and how it might change. Their enquiries should be based on real places.

Space: Pupils should develop spatial understanding, including how the locations of human and physical features are influenced by each other and often interact across space. Spatial patterns, distributions and networks can be described, analysed and often explained by reference to social, economic, environmental and political processes. As part of their geographical enquiries, pupils should identify these processes and assess their impact.

Scale: Scale influences the way we think about what we see or experience. Any geographical enquiry benefits from being viewed from a range of scales to develop an understanding of how these scales are interconnected.

Interdependence: Pupils should understand how human action in one place has consequences somewhere else, for example when deforestation causes flooding, or the enlargement of the European Union causes large-scale migration.

Physical and human processes: These processes cause change and development in places and can be used to explain patterns and distributions. Understanding these processes helps pupils to imagine alternative futures for places and for the people who live and work in them.

Environmental interaction and sustainable development: Understanding the dynamic interrelationship between the physical and human worlds involves appreciating the possible tensions between economic prosperity, social fairness (who gets what, where and why), and environmental quality (conserving resources and landscapes and preventing environmental damage). The interaction of these factors provides the basis for geographical study of the environment and understanding of sustainable development.

Cultural understanding and diversity: Considering how people and places are represented in different ways involves questions such as: Who am I? Where do I come from? Who is my family? Who are the people around me? Where do they come from? What is our story? This contributes to pupils’ understanding of diversity and social cohesion.

Key processes of Geography

These are the essential skills and processes in geography that pupils need to learn to make progress.

2.1 Geographical enquiry

Pupils should be able to:

  1. ask geographical questions, thinking critically, constructively and creatively

  2. collect, record and display information

  3. identify bias, opinion and abuse of evidence in sources when investigating issues

  4. analyse and evaluate evidence, presenting findings to draw and justify conclusions

  5. find creative ways of using and applying geographical skills and understanding to create new interpretations of place and space

  6. plan geographical enquiries, suggesting appropriate sequences of investigation

  7. solve problems and make decisions to develop analytical skills and creative thinking about geographical issues.

2.2 Fieldwork and out-of-class learning

Pupils should be able to:

  1. select and use fieldwork tools and techniques appropriately, safely and efficiently.

2.3 Graphicacy and visual literacy

Pupils should be able to:

  1. use atlases, globes, maps at a range of scales, photographs, satellite images and other geographical data

  2. construct maps and plans at a variety of scales, using graphical techniques to present evidence.

2.4 Geographical communication

Pupils should be able to:

  1. communicate their knowledge and understanding using geographical vocabulary and conventions in both speech and writing.

Explanatory text

Geographical enquiry: Pupils should carry out a range of enquiries, from structured to more open-ended and active. The approaches used should support the type of enquiry questions being asked.

Collect: Information should be gathered from a variety of sources, including fieldwork libraries, the internet and digital media, official agencies, GIS and newspapers.

Identify bias, opinion and abuse of evidence: This includes evaluating the quality of information by asking questions about its source, what it was collected for and how it has been analysed and presented (eg questioning the provenance of websites).

Fieldwork tools: These include using ICT, such as digital and video cameras, GIS, and environmental sensors (eg data-logging weather stations).

Maps at a range of scales: This includes Ordnance Survey maps to a scale of 1:25,000 and 1:50,000, which should be used by pupils throughout key stage 3 to interpret physical and human landscapes.

Photographs: These include vertical and oblique aerial photographs.

Geographical data: This includes published statistics, data gathered from fieldwork, literature, biographies, travel writing and information generated by GIS.

Range and content of Geography

This section outlines the breadth of the subject on which teachers should draw when teaching the key concepts and key processes.

The study of geography should include:

  1. a variety of scales, from personal, local, regional, national, international and continental, to global

  2. a range of investigations, focusing on places, themes or issues

  3. the location of places and environments

  4. key aspects of the UK, including its changing human and physical geography, current issues and its place in the world today

  5. different parts of the world in their wider settings and contexts, including the European Union and regions or countries in different states of development

  6. physical geography, physical processes and natural landscapes

  7. human geography, built and managed environments and human processes

  8. interactions between people and their environments, including causes and consequences of these interactions, and how to plan for and manage their future impact.

Explanatory text

Variety of scales: This includes studies at individual scales and studies that connect scales together.

Range of investigations: For example, investigations of continents, globalisation or uneven development.

Location of places and environments: Knowing where places and landscapes are located allows pupils to develop a coherent framework of locational knowledge.

Key aspects of the UK: This includes local and national perspectives. It should also include the geographical aspects that underpin a young person’s identity and their global citizenship.

Different parts of the world: This includes the location of places, key aspects of their changing geography and how places link with other places in the world across a range of different environments.

Physical geography: This should include the study of weather and climate, and why they vary from place to place, as well as other physical processes and landscapes.

Human geography: This should include themes such as urban change, migration and sustainable development.

Interactions between people and their environments: This should include the investigation of climate change. Making links between people and their environments at different scales helps pupils understand interdependence (eg considering how their consumption of energy has a global impact on physical systems such as climate). Pupils should investigate different perspectives and values relating to these interactions, including sustainable development. They should also consider future implications of these interactions.

Curriculum opportunities of Geography

During the key stage pupils should be offered the following opportunities that are integral to their learning and enhance their engagement with the concepts, processes and content of the subject.

The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to:

  1. build on and expand their personal experiences of geography

  2. explore real and relevant contemporary contexts

  3. use a range of approaches to enquiries

  4. use varied resources, including maps, visual media and geographical information systems

  5. undertake fieldwork investigations in different locations outside the classroom, individually and as part of a team

  6. participate in informed responsible action in relation to geographical issues that affect them and those around them

  7. examine geographical issues in the news

  8. investigate important issues of relevance to the UK and globally using a range of skills, including ICT

  9. make links between geography and other subjects, including citizenship and ICT, and areas of the curriculum including sustainability and global dimension. 

Explanatory text

Personal experiences of geography: This involves using pupils’ practical and life experiences to extend and deepen their awareness and understanding of a range of geographical ideas, such as the significance of location, the nature of environments and sustainable development.

Real and relevant contemporary contexts: The study of place and space provides a strong context for learning about change in the contemporary world – both directly in the local environment and more broadly using multimedia data, images and text. Using current examples involving real people and real places provides opportunities to make connections to the world beyond school.

Geographical information systems: These are valuable for mapping and visualising information, as well as linking and analysing different spatial datasets. Pupils should have opportunities to learn about GIS.

Fieldwork investigations: Fieldwork provides opportunities for pupils to analyse issues in real contexts. Fieldwork also links study to pupils’ personal experiences of places and environments.

Different locations outside the classroom: Fieldwork should relate directly to topics studied, making the most of the local area as well as contrasting localities.

Participate in informed responsible action: This enhances pupils’ understanding of how geography has meaning and relevance to their own lives. It can also help them make informed and independent decisions and take action both at a personal level and as citizens in society.

Quick links

Curriculum case studies

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See also

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