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National Curriculum

Historical, geographical and social understanding - Programme of learning

Statutory content

Learning in this area should include an appropriate balance of focused subject teaching and well-planned opportunities to use, apply and develop knowledge and skills across the whole curriculum.

See related key actions

The programme of learning is made up of:

Curriculum aims

This area of learning contributes to the achievement of the curriculum aims for all young people to become:

  • successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
  • confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
  • responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Explanatory text


Why this area of learning is important

Historical, geographical and social understanding fires children’s curiosity and imagination about who we are, where we have come from, where we live and where we might be going next. It connects Britain’s past with the present and the future, helps children make sense of our place in the world and is central to their development as informed, active and responsible citizens.

This area of learning encourages children to investigate the world around them, from the local to the global. They learn about the impact of their actions on the planet and understand the importance of developing a future that is sustainable. Through exploring cultures, beliefs, values, human rights and responsibilities, children develop a deeper understanding of themselves and others, and a sense of belonging. They see how societies are organised and shaped by people's values and actions, and how communities can live and work together.

Children learn about diversity and interdependence, fairness, justice and democracy. They begin to understand how events that happened in Britain long ago or in other countries can affect our lives today and how our actions shape the future.

1. Essential knowledge

Children should build secure knowledge of the following:

  1. how the present has been shaped by the past, through developing a sense of chronology, exploring change and continuity over time, and understanding why and where things happened 
  2. how and why places and environments develop, how they can be sustained and how they may change in the future
  3. how identities develop, what we have in common, what makes us different and how we organise ourselves and make decisions within communities 
  4. how people, communities and places are connected and can be interdependent at a range of scales.

Explanatory text


2. Key skills

These are the skills that children need to learn to make progress:

  1. undertake investigations and enquiries (i), using various methods, media and sources
  2. compare, interpret and analyse different types of evidence from a range of sources 
  3. present and communicate findings in a range of ways and develop arguments and explanations using appropriate specialist vocabulary and techniques


Explanatory text

Investigations and enquiries: This includes carrying out visits and fieldwork, creating and using maps at a range of scales (including using Ordnance Survey maps of the local area), films and artefacts, and using digital information such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), local census and weather data, databases and the internet

Alternative viewpoints: This includes using ICT to consider viewpoints from people in locations beyond the neighbourhood, the UK or abroad

3. Cross-curricular studies

This area of learning should provide opportunities for:

  1. children to develop and apply their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills
  2. personal, emotional and social development
  3. enhancing children's historical, geographical and social understanding through making links to other areas of learning and to wider issues of interest and importance.

4. Breadth of learning

a. When exploring local, national and global contexts children should:

  1. learn about the ways people, communities, places and environments have changed over time, and how they are interconnected
  2. develop and extend local and global links through communications and collaboration tools (i).

b. Through the study of people and communities, children should:

  1. find out about the main political and social institutions that affect their lives
  2. find out about issues and take action to improve things in their communities and make a positive contribution to society
  3. engage with different representatives from the community (i)
  4. explore issues of justice, rights and responsibilities in their own contexts and the wider world.

c. In the study of place and space children should:

  1. use fieldwork, first-hand experience and secondary sources (i) to locate and investigate the geographical features of a range of places and environments, including their own locality, a contrasting area in the UK and a different locality in another country
  2. learn about and develop informed views and opinions on local, national and global issues such as sustainability (i), climate change, economic inequality, and their impact on people, places and environments in the past and the present.

d. The study of the past should include aspects of local, British and world history. Children should:

  1. study the past in outline and in depth, covering different societies and periods of history from ancient times to modern day
  2. use dates and vocabulary related to the passing of time
  3. place events, people and changes within a broad chronological framework
  4. use a range of sources of information (i) and visit historic buildings, museums, galleries and sites.

Explanatory text

Communications and collaboration tools: Such as email, video conferencing, podcasting and school-linking 

Representatives from the community: Including those in business, public and voluntary sectors
Secondary sources: Including maps, graphs, globes, atlases, GIS and ICT, film, books and devices such as weather data loggers
Sustainablility: Including resource use and recycling
Sources of information: Such as documents, printed sources, pictures, photographs, artefacts, databases and ICT-based sources including using data-handling software to collate, analyse and present data

5. Curriculum progression

The overall breadth of learning should be used when planning curriculum progression. Children should be taught:

Historical, geographical and social understanding - across the area of learning


E1. to find out about the key human and physical features (i) of their own locality, its location in the UK, and how it has changed over time

E2. to explore how people’s ways of life, including their own, change with location and time (i)

E3. about the links (i) between their locality and other places in the UK and beyond

E4. to find out about the lives of significant people and events (i) from the past and the present

E5. to investigate issues, express views and take part (i) in decision-making activities to improve their immediate environment or community

E6. to use the internet and other digital sources and simulations to find out about significant issues, events and people, and to explore distant and contrasting places

E7. the importance of rules and to recognise the difference between right and wrong and what is fair and unfair

Explanatory text

Human and physical features: Examples of physical features include rivers, hills, valleys, volcanoes, coastlines; human features include roads, shops, buildings, villages and towns; community features include police, community leaders or the mayor

Change with location and time: This includes changes to life at school, work, leisure and home and the social and cultural diversity of communities

Links: These include physical communication, trade and movement of people or ideas
Significant people and events: For example, people such as explorers, inventors and rulers, events that are commemorated, and other events that are significant to the children’s own lives
Take part: This involves working with others to explore issues of similarity and difference, right and wrong, fairness and rules, and making simple decisions within their group, class or school


M1. how identities, communities, places, cultures and traditions have changed and are changing over time

M2. to identify patterns in communities, places and past events by searching for and locating information using keywords, and carrying out searches (i), fieldwork and surveys

Explanatory text

Searches: Including using data-handling software to collate and analyse data



L1. how societies have been organised and governed (i) in different ways and at different times, including in the present

L2. to distinguish between fact and opinion and make choices about sources of online information to find out about communities, locations, environments and events

L3. to investigate and understand local, national and global issues, including by using ICT to analyse and process data (i)

Explanatory text

Societies have been organised and governed: This includes how different societies in the past were ruled, as well as key features of local and national government in the UK today. The study of the UK today could include what the local councillor or MP does to represent people and the role of the local council and parliament. Often this includes learning through practical participation, for example in the student council

Data: Including weather, GIS and local census data

Historical, geographical and social understanding - citizenship



Explanatory text





M3. to understand how people can take actions and have a say (i) in what happens locally and nationally

M4. to consider issues affecting communities, and reflect on the impact of people’s actions on others and the environment (i)

M5. to understand why laws are made and how they are applied justly (i)

Explanatory text

Have a say: This includes learning simple features of democracy, and how decisions can be made through elections and voting, campaigning, debate and raising awareness of issues including the use of ICT to extend the reach of such activities

People’s actions on others and the environment: This includes learning about rights and needs humans have and how rules and laws can protect rights and the environment

Justly: This includes issues about right and wrong, why we need laws, the consequences of crime and antisocial behaviour for communities and the role of the police in protecting people



L4. how rights (i) need to be balanced to protect individuals and communities from injustice

L5. to engage actively with democratic processes (i), and address issues of concern to them through their actions and decision making

L6. that communities and the people within them are diverse, changing and interconnected

L7. to consider how people can live and work together to benefit their communities

Explanatory text

Rights: Examples of rights and responsibilities might include: at school, the right to learn and the responsibility not to disrupt other children from learning; in the neighbourhood, the right to be safe, including from discrimination, and the responsibility not to hurt others physically or emotionally

Democratic processes: Democratic and responsible actions could be within the class, school or wider community and might include taking part in a debate on an issue affecting the community, voting in a class or school election, raising awareness about issues of concern and trying to improve the environment for others


Historical, geographical and social understanding - geography



Explanatory text



M6. where significant places are located in the UK, Europe and the wider world (i)

M7. to identify the similarities and differences between places and environments (i), and understand how they are linked

M8. to appreciate the relationship between the physical, built and economic and social environments

M9. how different ways in which people live around the world sometimes have consequences for the environment and the lives of others from local to global scales

Explanatory text

UK, Europe and the wider world: Significant places should be located which include the pupils' home locality, the countries and major cities that make up the UK, the EU, major countries and cities of the world, the major oceans, rivers and mountain ranges alongside the locations of key places that are studied in other relevant areas of the curriculum such as in literature, science and art

Places and environments: This includes a study of the physical and human geography of their own locality, a contrasting locality in the UK and a different locality in another country


L8. a range of geographical processes (i) that cause change in the physical and human world in different places

L9. how human patterns are influenced by both human and physical processes

L10. about the factors that affect weather and climate

L11. ways in which environments can be managed sustainably and why this is important now and in the future 

Explanatory text

Geographical processes: Such as the impact and patterns of weather, erosion and deposition, migration, changes in the use of land, and social and economic changes, with particular reference to places of relevance to the school


Historical, geographical and social understanding - history


Explanatory text



M10. to explore the different ways we can find out about the past and how to understand the evidence (i)

M11. how significant events (i), developments or individuals and groups have influenced their locality, the UK and beyond in the recent and distant past

M12. about the movement and settlement of people (i) in different periods of British history, and the impact these have had

Explanatory text

Evidence: This includes primary and secondary sources, artefacts, documents, photographs, film, accounts, including online sources – not all sources of evidence are as reliable as others and the past has been represented and interpreted in different ways
Events: For example, the building of castles, the plague, industrialisation, or the work of a well-known local person and their effect on the local area and beyond
Movement and settlement of people: For example, the impact of the invasion and settlement by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans or more recent immigration


L12. the characteristic features of, and changes within, two key periods (i) of history that were significant to the locality and the UK

L13. the effects of economic, technological and scientific developments (i) on the UK and the wider world over time

L14. to understand the broad chronology of major events in the UK, and some key events in the wider world, from ancient civilisations to the present day, and to locate within this the periods, events and changes they have studied

Explanatory text

Key periods: As well as British history, one of the periods studied could be taken from European or world history
Developments: For example, the impact of changes in transport and technology in the last 200 years: the development and impact of roads, canals and railways in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; car manufacture and developments in aviation in the twentieth century; or the impact of changes in transport on the local area

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