Planning with the national curriculum at key stage 3

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3. Planning for progress

Progression is a complicated matter, especially when linked to the technical processes of assessment. Excellent guidance on assessment exists, but planning the curriculum comes first.

The Purpose of study and Aims sections of the Programmes of Study can be a very powerful source of reflection on and assessment of the value of the curriculum. They can be used to ask some searching questions of the current curriculum, and employed as a tool to help plan and prioritise changes at the school level. It is worthwhile asking if the current school curriculum meets the criteria set out in the table below, adapted from the new Aims and Purpose statements.

Reflecting on your current key stage 3

Aspect for development Aspect to maintain Aspect of strength
Inspire a curiosity and fascination about the world and its people
Equip pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and natural and human environments
Equip pupils with a deep understanding of the Earth’s key physical and human processes
Deepen understanding of the interaction between physical and human processes, and of the formation and use of landscapes and environments
Provide the frameworks and approaches that explain how the Earth’s features at different scales are shaped, interconnected and change over time
Develop contextual knowledge of the location of globally significant places – both terrestrial and marine – including their defining physical and human characteristics and how these provide a geographical context for understanding the actions of processes
Understand the processes that give rise to key physical and human geographical features of the world, how these are interdependent and how they bring about spatial variation and change over time
Develop the geographical skills needed to collect, analyse and communicate with a range of data gathered through experiences of fieldwork that deepen their understanding of geographical processes
Develop the geographical skills needed to interpret a range of sources of geographical information, including maps, diagrams, globes, aerial photographs and Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
Develop the geographical skills needed to communicate geographical information in a variety of ways, including through maps, numerical and quantitative skills and writing at length


Download the table

Richard Daugherty wrote “if we did not hope that students should progress we would have no foundation on which to construct a curriculum or embark on the act of teaching.” Progression in geography defies a simplistic description or a straightforward scale of measurement. Whilst the idea can be applied to the gradual gains in knowledge, understanding, skills and competencies which students actually achieve, part of the difficulty is that this is not linear, but happens in fits and starts - with sudden bursts of progression followed by periods of consolidation where students reach a plateau and need to spend time there before the next ‘spurt’. What for one student might constitute a knowledge spurt (light bulb moment that enables shift to next level of thinking) may not be the same for another.

Instead of a simple step by step process, it is frequently acknowledged that geography benefits from a spiral approach to curriculum - revisiting places and topics in ways that build depth of knowledge and understanding. The following broad ‘dimensions’ of progress – what it means to ‘get better’ at geography – can be helpful when thinking about both planning and assessment:

  • Moving outwards from the familiar to the less familiar
  • Acquiring greater fluency with ‘world knowledge’
  • Working with increasingly complex and/or abstract ideas and generalisations
  • Using data that becomes more multivariate
  • Investigating people-environment relations
  • Applying geographical thinking to new contexts and situations
  • Becoming more precise (in language, ideas, skills), and making distinctions
  • Becoming more comfortable with ‘grey areas’ where answers are not so clear cut
  • Connecting information and ideas, and building (not just receiving) new knowledge
  • Drawing on increasing breadth of content and contexts
  • Understanding the importance of perspective, recognising a range of values and views

Click here for guidance on assessing the national curriculum.

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