Planning with the national curriculum at key stage 3

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1. Planning in context

Creating a local curriculum

The National Curriculum sets out ‘the core knowledge and understanding that all children should be expected to acquire in the course of their schooling', but a core curriculum is not all that students should be taught. A local and personalised element to the curriculum is essential to ensure that students are engaged with innovative and enjoyable learning that has relevance to their lives and work while challenging them to think about 'real world' issues. The diagram below shows the relationship between the subject core and the curriculum taught in two different schools:

The main function of the Programmes of Study for geography is to guide teachers in the selection of what to teach: they do not provide guidance on how to teach. For example, they make no reference to enquiry learning approaches, which are widely recognised as effective in geography. Values, attitudes and student capabilities (competences) are similarly omitted. Teachers should regard these as additional features of high quality work in geography. However detailed or sparse the current National Curriculum requirements, there will always be a need to review and reorganise them to clarify their implications for teaching and learning (curriculum planning) and ideally to expand and develop them to fit the circumstances of each school and its students (curriculum development). So the skills necessary to plan and develop the curriculum are essential for all teachers.

Three levels of curriculum planning are recognised for a subject such as geography:

  1. The general level - normally undertaken by national bodies, such as the Department for Education, advised by expert groups including the Geographical Association. This level results in the establishment of a broad National Curriculum framework which can then be used by schools.
  2. The school level - undertaken by subject departments and subject teachers, who develop their own course plans, outline schemes of work and assessment plans for the subject.
  3. The classroom level - undertaken by the individual class teacher, often in discussion with colleagues. It results in more detailed schemes of work, together with plans and resources for individual lessons and sequences of lessons.

Planning and development at the school level is often shaped by wider constraints. The figure below shows how school curriculum development activities fit into a wider context:

Click here for a larger diagram.

There are several examples of how geography departments have planned their new key stage 3 in Teaching Geography journal. In the spring 2014 issue read articles by Kirsty Cook and Maria Larkin and Graham Goldup:

Cook K (2014) Planning a new key stage 3, Teaching Geography (Spring 2014) vol 39, pps.16-17 - Kirsty Cook and her geography department have already risen to the challenge of the new Programmes of Study and have planned a new key stage 3.

Larkin M Goldup G (2014) Planning a new key stage 3, Teaching Geography (Spring 2014) vol 39, p.18 - Maria Larkin and Graham Goldup outline their approach to implementing the new geography Programmes of Study to devise an engaging and challenging key stage 3 for September 2014.

Making sense of geography

While the National Curriculum specifies what students should be taught, in practice, if students are to use core knowledge and understanding, they need opportunities to make sense of new information through the active construction of knowledge rather than receiving it fully formed from external sources. For students to develop understanding as well as accumulate information they need time to explore new information and to relate it to what they already know. Students make sense of the world through language - through talking and writing – and so good geography lessons contain meaningful opportunities for discussion and dialogue, sorting data, ranking information, identifying links between concepts, reconstructing information in alternative forms, discursive writing and so on.

Developing geographical thinking and skills

Geographical thinking (see also Geographical Thinking) is not everyday thinking. Because geography, the world subject, tries to keep things whole, geographical thinking includes relating the near and far, the physical and the human, people and environments, the economic and the social, time and distance ... and so on. Thinking geographically offers a uniquely powerful way of seeing the world and makes connections between scales, from the local to the global.

We need facts in order to think, but we also need concepts to enable us to group bits of information, or facts, together. The three main organising concepts of geography are frequently said to be place, space and environment. They are the key ideas involved in framing the unique contribution of geography as a subject discipline. These high level ideas can be applied across the subject to identify a question, guide an investigation, organise information, suggest an explanation or assist decision-making.

Whilst the new Programmes for geography do not contain a section on concepts, many ‘big’ concepts, such as physical and human processes, are included, alongside more concrete ideas such as latitude or weathering. As students deepen their knowledge and broaden their understanding of geographical matters, they should gradually reach awareness and gain understanding of the big ideas or concepts of the discipline.

And since learning geography requires students to engage mentally with questions about people, society, environment and the planet, well-planned geography lessons require students to identify, assimilate, analyse and communicate data of various kinds, and learn the skills to do so productively. This often entails manipulating maps, diagrams, numbers, graphs or images, using information technology, contributing to structured talk and debate and writing for a variety of audiences.

Fieldtrip funding is available for a group of students between 5 and 18 years of age from the Frederick Soddy Trust Schools Award Scheme.

You may find this Geography Expert Subject Advisory Group website useful. It contains the work of a group of experts and practitioners to help teachers and teacher educators plan for the implementation of the new 2014 National Curriculum Framework.

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Alan Kinder

Alan Kinder GA Staff

Well done for getting all of this material up and running Milan.
This section of our National Curriculum web section is intended to set out some broad concepts and challenges for teachers of geography. Look out for section 3 soon - 'Resourcing the national curriculum' - where we plan to add a large range of material to provide teachers with the practical resources needed to teach and the professional guidance needed to help develop expertise.


F Eastham Guest


I'm trying to plan an exciting new curriculum for my Geography department, with lots of enquiries, local issues etc. Have you any guidelines or ideas yet please? Thanks

Ruth Totterdell

Ruth Totterdell GA Staff

We are providing support for geography departments in a number of ways. If you subscribe to Teaching Geography you will be aware that we have featured a number of geography departments who have shared their planning for the new curriculum; in the Spring 2014 issue, Kirsty Cook and Maria Larkin and in the summer 2014 issue there was an article from Simon Renshaw and Rebecca Aston. In the autumn issue there will be a similar article from Chris May. We are extending our Key stage 3 Geography Teacher Toolkits and two new fully-resourced schemes of work will be published in the autumn; The role of stones: how do rocks shape our world? and Introducing India: What are the opportunities and challenges for the future? Two further titles on glaciation and resources are in production. The resourcing your key stage 3 section of the website is being updated to give some more ideas.

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