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Assessing progress in primary geography

A continuous journey

‘Just because a child can do something today doesn’t mean that they can still do it in a week … two weeks or a term’s time. However, if they can’t do it today then there is virtually no chance that they will be able to do it at a later date.’

This statement underpins progression. It enables teachers to create a learning environment where a series of check points are built in to lessons to ascertain the level of pupil knowledge and understanding. These check points can be constructed as part of a short, medium or long assessment cycle designed to determine where the learner is now and how to move them forward to successfully achieve a clearly defined set of lesson intentions.

‘When planning a route, you need to know the starting point and the destination a neat analogy for the link between planning and assessment’ (Owens, 2019, p. 137).

Figure 1: A formative assessment suite. Source: School Education Gateway.


The formative assessment suite in Figure 1 will inform a teacher’s decision-making process; notifying them when pupils are ready to take the next steps while also providing the flexibility for teachers to respond to the needs of the individual.

Within the short cycle the teacher might ask questions or offer statements eliciting simultaneously responses on whiteboards or simple make continuous observations of the pupils’ actions and discussions. The dual role of the teacher as a listener and the architect of louder pupil voices is essential within formative assessment. In her article ‘The process of progress’, Margaret Mackintosh (2008), states:

‘My approach to assessing pupils’ progress in geography is through continuous dialogue and ‘listening in’ to pupils’ geographical conversations as they talk while enjoying practical activities on their geographical journey. For this to be useful the teacher needs to know where the journey is going, in skills as well as content.’

Underlying principles that allow this include:

  • active geography: pupils should DO geography, rather than just listen to it, by being engaged in practical activities in and beyond the classroom.
  • geographical voice: pupils should have ample opportunity to engage in discussion, debate and oral presentation, rather than just writing about the geography they are doing (so that it is geographical knowledge and understanding, not literacy, that is being assessed).
  • a planned end point: all learning intentions should be planned against expectations and with continuous formative assessment of progress in mind.


Further support

Leading Primary Geography: The essential handbook for all teachers
Section 7 (‘Effective subject leadership’) contains a complete overview of progression, summative and formative assessment. Extensive links are also made with earlier sections in the book that provide an insight in to geography’s ‘big ideas’ and the symbiotic relationship between assessment and planning.

GA CPD course: Leading primary geography
This course will help you successfully lead primary geography and raise the standard of geography teaching and learning in your school and provides a range of ideas for planning, assessing and teaching high-quality geography.

Progression in map skills
Develop your understanding of how to develop map skills in primary geography.



Owens, P. (2019) ‘Effective subject leadership’ in Willy, T. (ed) Leading Primary Geography: The essential handbook for all teachers. Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Mackintosh, M. (2008) ‘The process of progress’,  Primary Geography, 65 (Spring), pp. 5–14.


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