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National Curriculum

Planning and assessment in geography


Planning across the key stage

The revision of the key stage 3 programme of study provides an opportunity to review and refresh your sequences of work. When reviewing planning across the key stage, developing new sequences of work or revising existing ones, teachers should consider the following.

Developing the key concepts

The key concepts provide the underlying structure for the subject and pupils should develop understanding of the key concepts as they study the subject. They are useful to teachers when selecting content and thinking about progression within the key stage.

The statements within the key concepts are provided to help with curriculum planning. It is not intended that these key concept definitions should be taught to pupils. The concepts are approached through enquiry about life and the environment in today’s world and in possible futures.

Growing familiarity with the key concepts will help pupils to develop their ability to think geographically and they will increasingly be able to apply their geographical knowledge and understanding, skills and values, in new contexts and to appreciate the significance of the concepts in their own lives.

Selecting content and activities

Curriculum design will involve planning small steps of understanding and learning experiences in the context of selected content and activities. These context choices are of great significance. The places and topics selected should be relevant, engaging, and exciting. The activities selected should link subject content to pupils’ own experiences and should extend their understanding. Teachers therefore need to be clear about their rationale for the selection of content: in geography this is often based on an area or region, a theme, an issue, a problem or a combination of these at a variety of scales; wherever possible incorporating topicality, and as appropriate incorporating fieldwork.

A 10-point summary – planning using concepts

  1. Decide on the purpose of the learning. Make these aims explicit, particularly in relation to the key concepts

  2. Select the places, themes, and/or issues you are going to use and show how these relate to the aims and key concepts. Check that you have taken in the range and content specified in the programme of study. Typically, this forms the skeletal key stage plan divided into curriculum units

  3. Build in the key processes across the key stage. If possible, devise activities that enable pupils to draw on prior and new knowledge to explore key questions (see below). Activities should also be ‘fit for purpose’

  4. It may be helpful to list the ‘understandings’ that you would expect pupils to derive from the curriculum plan

  5. Consider key questions that could relate to these understandings, so that they can be used to support pupil enquiry

  6. Enable pupils to access a range of information from a variety of sources and perspectives

  7. Leave space for and create an assessment activity for each unit – one that will enable pupils to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do. This should be designed so that pupils need to apply their understanding to new data, places or examples. It need not be seen as a test but as a classroom activity to reinforce learning

  8. Planning for progression is demanding but important to bear in mind. Review your draft curriculum plan specifically from the point of view of progression. In what ways is this plan leading pupils forward?

  9. It may be useful to reflect on the plan and to write a curriculum statement that shows, in relation to the selected content:
    • what we want pupils to know (statements of essential knowledge)
    • what we want pupils to understand (conceptual understanding)
    • what we want pupils to be able to do (geographical skills and enquiry)
  10. Topicality is vital in geography. Curriculum time should be set aside to tackle significant events that occur during the year and to feature in your teaching places or topics in the news.

(10-point list developed by Geography Action Plan)

Continuity across the key stages

To make good progress pupils need continuity and opportunities for development across the key stages. To achieve this, curriculum planning at key stage 3 needs to:

  • build on and extend pupils’ achievements and experiences at key stage 2
  • provide pupils with a clear sense of how teaching and learning is helping them develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, and of what they are aiming to achieve by the end of the key stage
  • prepare pupils for the demands of the subject at key stage 4.


Key stage 2

During key stage 2 pupils investigate a variety of people, places and environments at different scales in the UK and abroad, and they start to make links between different places in the world. Pupils find out how people affect the environment and how they are affected by it. Pupils carry out geographical enquiries inside and outside the classroom, and in doing this they ask geographical questions, apply geographical skills, and use resources such as maps, atlases, aerial photographs and ICT.

By the end of key stage 2 most pupils can explain the physical and human characteristics of places and their similarities and differences. Pupils know the locations of key places in the UK, Europe and the world. Most pupils are beginning to explain physical and human features of the landscape and recognise how physical and human processes cause changes in the character of places and environments. Pupils can describe how people may affect the environment and they can explain the different views held by people about environmental change. Pupils can carry out geographical investigations by asking and responding to questions, and can use their own observations and skills to research a range of geographical enquiry resources.

Key stage 3

The geography programme of study at key stage 3 builds on the knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils acquire during key stage 2. Pupils develop their geographical capability and confidence. They investigate a wide range of people, places and environments at different scales around the world. This inspires young people to learn more about their place in the world and to understand their responsibilities as world citizens. Pupils learn to think, write and communicate in geographical ways and to use a wide range of transferable skills, including those involving geographical information technologies. Learning about other places, landscapes and cultures excites and motivates young people to think about the future. With growing confidence and enhanced geographical capability, pupils begin to appreciate the benefits of geographical perspectives in helping them to make sense of the world.

By the end of key stage 3 most pupils understand that many factors, including people's values and attitudes, influence decisions made about places and environments. Pupils use this understanding to explain the resulting changes, appreciating that people's lives and the environment in one place are affected by actions and events in other places. Pupils can describe interactions within and between physical and human processes, and appreciate how these create geographical patterns and contribute to change in places and environments. Pupils recognise that human actions, including their own, may have unintended human and environmental consequences, and that change sometimes leads to conflict. With increasing independence, pupils draw on their knowledge and understanding to identify geographical questions and issues, appreciating that considerations of sustainable development affect people’s management of environmental resources. Pupils establish their own sequence of investigation; they select, accurately use and critically evaluate sources of evidence; they present well-argued summaries and begin to reach substantiated conclusions.

New opportunities

The revised programme of study offers you many opportunities to refresh and renew your curriculum, making it broader and more relevant in ways that will inspire and engage learners. Some of the key themes that underpin the revisions include:

Increased flexibility

The revised programme of study for geography offers increased flexibility by being less prescriptive about content. Teachers can now adopt a much more holistic approach to curriculum planning and can give greater attention to continuity, progression, topicality and significant issues. Schools and teachers have more choice to explore the most engaging, relevant and worthwhile aspects of geography. Teachers are able to plan in a way that is far more significant to the lives of their pupils and themselves, drawing on issues in the local area as well as at national and global levels. The greater emphasis on sustainable development, globalisation and climate change are all likely to engage and motivate pupils.

Encouraging new skills

The new focus on key concepts will heighten interest and enjoyment for pupils and teachers. The geography programme of study now allows enough time and space for meaningful and effective enquiry work. Time to linger longer and dig deeper.

Skills developed in using ICT and GIS, and in carrying out fieldwork investigations, are now highlighted more clearly in the programme of study. This enables pupils to apply to real-world contexts their locational knowledge, ability to think spatially, and comprehension of physical and human processes. Pupils are able to investigate genuinely significant questions and issues concerning interactions between people and environments.

The new programme of study has a clearer focus on developing the skills associated with graphicacy, including making and interpreting maps, a skill not thoroughly covered in any other area of the curriculum.

Crossing boundaries, making connections

Pupils are most motivated to learn about matters that they see as relevant to them, in and out of school. The revisions to the programme of study provide more opportunities to connect geography with the outside world, and to move the subject beyond the classroom. For example, through fieldwork in local and contrasting localities, building on pupils’ own experiences of geography, or exploring real and relevant contemporary contexts. Another focus in the revised programme of study aimed at achieving a more outward-looking curriculum is participation in informed responsible action in relation to geographical issues linked with the local or global community.

The curriculum opportunities section of the programme of study also includes references to working with other subjects. Encouraging pupils to make connections between the concepts and processes they encounter in different subjects helps to reinforce learning and broaden their thinking. It has a valuable role to play in creating a more integrated whole school curriculum and a more coherent learning experience for pupils.

Planning for inclusion

Planning an inclusive key stage 3 means thinking about shaping the curriculum to match the needs and interests of the full range of learners. These include:

  • the gifted and talented

  • those with special educational needs and disabilities

  • pupils who have English as a second language

  • the different needs of boys and girls.

Pupils in the school will also bring a range of cultural experiences and perspectives, which can be reflected in the curriculum and used to further pupils' understanding of the importance of the issues of diversity.

An inclusive curriculum is one where:

  • different groups of pupils are all able to see the relevance of the curriculum to their own experiences and aspirations

  • all pupils, regardless of ability, have sufficient opportunities to succeed in their learning at the highest standard.

You may find that a useful starting point to planning for inclusion could be to consider your own school's Disability Action Plan, Race Equality Plan and other equality policies alongside a comprehensive overview of the data available on pupils from various groups. This can then be used to draw up a useful framework for curriculum review. You will also be able to identify appropriate points to involve learners themselves in some of these developments.

Support for assessment

Assessment is an essential part of normal teaching and learning in all subjects. It can take many forms and be used for a range of purposes. To be effective assessment must be ‘fit for purpose’; being clear about what you want the assessment to achieve will determine the nature of the assessment and what the outcome will be.

When planning assessment opportunities, consider the following.

Purpose – What is the assessment for and how will it be used?

Does it form part of ongoing assessment for learning to provide individual feedback or targets so that the pupil knows what to do next? Is it to provide an overall judgement about how the pupil is progressing against national curriculum levels? Related to this is the need to consider how the purpose of the assessment affects the frequency of assessment. For example, there should be sufficient time between level-related judgements to allow a pupil to show progress, whereas to be effective the assessment of ongoing work should be embedded in day-to-day teaching and learning.

Evidence – What are the best ways to gather the evidence needed to support the purpose of the assessment?

Assessment shouldn’t be limited to a narrow range of evidence. Any meaningful judgement of progress or attainment should be based on a range of activities, outcomes and contexts This could include assessing the learning as it’s happening through observation, discussion or focused questioning; involving pupils in the process through peer or self-assessment; or sampling a range of work over a period of time. If there are areas where you don’t have sufficient evidence you could either adjust your planning or use a more focused short task to fill the gap. The gathering of evidence also needs to be manageable. With care, the same evidence may be used for a variety of purposes.

Outcome – What form will the assessment outcome take and how will it be used?

Depending on the purpose of the assessment the outcome could be a level judgement of progress over time or a specific and measurable improvement target for the pupil. Effective use of the assessment outcome results in actions such as providing an instant response or planning for the longer term. The best means of communicating assessment outcomes should also be considered. For example, it might be through written feedback or discussion. The outcome may also provide you with valuable information for your future planning, by identifying areas that need to be revisited by a class or individuals to secure understanding or by revealing gaps in curriculum coverage where there is no evidence of achievement in a particular area to assess.

Further guidance on gathering evidence, integrating assessment, periodic assessment and the role of tasks and tests can be found in the assessment section of the website.

Further guidance on day-to-day assessment and peer and self-assessment can be found under the assessment section of the website. 

Exemplification of standards and approaches

QCDA is working with schools to develop exemplification materials that will demonstrate effective ways of collecting evidence and providing feedback through assessment for learning and periodic assessments in subjects. The materials produced will show how assessment practice within and between subjects can support learning, embed standards and be part of effective teaching of the revised programmes of study. They will:

  • demonstrate ways to collect evidence of pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding as seen in their talk, actions and outcomes

  • provide examples of manageable ways of collecting evidence

  • include evidence of subject standards.

These exemplification materials will be available from the assessment section of the website in 2010.

Quick links

How geography links to

See also

Here are some useful related resources:

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