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Thinking about progression in geography


One aim of the Making Geography Happen project was to understand progression in geography. During the course of the project we found that teachers often struggled with the pressures of compiling assessment paperwork in order to provide ‘evidence’ of students’ progression. We are well aware that this can distract from the quailty of the geography being taught and how to genuinely assess the progress being made by students.

Therefore we have deliberately avoided pro formas, self-assessment sheets, peer assessment checklists, sub levels and so on in these project pages in an attempt to ‘lift the geography’ away from this busy assessment activity. More on this theme can be read in David Lambert’s Think Piece on progression and in the GA’s 2006 discussion paper on level descriptions and assessment.


Understanding progression

Paul Weeden has provided some essential background material and considers what it means for children and young people to progress in their geographical thinking.

What is progression?

Geography teachers want students to improve and be capable of moving forward as geographers.

‘The concept of progression, which focuses on the advances in students’ learning over a period of time, is important for planning the structure of a curriculum and for assessing students’ attainment.’

– Trevor Bennetts, Geography Summer 2005

Geography underpins a lifelong ‘conversation’ about the earth as the home of humankind. Geography can nourish and enrich a whole lifetime of learning. Geography teachers want students to engage with the subject, to see its relevance to their lives and the way that it helps explain, inspire and address their curiosity about the earth. They want students to think geographically and use the language, vocabulary and grammar of geography with confidence. They want them to investigate and explore geography by asking questions and thinking critically about real life issues.

– Adapted from A Different View

Progression can therefore be reflected in:

  • Curriculum planning that develops students’ geographical thinking in a systematic manner.
  • The changes in an individual student’s understanding of concepts, use of skills, development of values and knowledge of content.

The following questions address these different aspects of progression:

Curriculum Planning

  • Does our curriculum planning, teaching and assessment take students somewhere and allow them to go further?
  • Do students acquire an interest and enthusiasm for the subject because it starts with their own experiences but takes them to new places and ideas?
  • Are we helping students to think geographically and to increasingly understand the contested nature of the concepts, generalisations, models and theories that geographers have developed?

Individual progress

  • Do students’ knowledge and understanding of geography develop as they move through their school career?
  • Can students, with increasing independence, use geographical skills in more complex and precise ways?
  • Do students broaden their scale of study and explain the links between places?
  • Do students develop a more mature approach to issues and recognise the importance of values and attitudes in shaping decision making?

These questions give teachers structures through which an individual’s progression can be identified but the assessment structures available such as level descriptions or grade criteria are complex and can be difficult to interpret.

Furthermore there are now four different sets of criteria being used for Key Stages 1 and 2, Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-level. While there are overlaps in the types of statement being used the elements are often different so that planning for continuity and progression between key stages can be difficult.


Curriculum planning

Curriculum planning has often focused more on sequencing the content to be covered and less on how children become better geographers. This can result in repetition of content rather than developing understanding of the knowledge and concepts of geography. To help students think geographically it is helpful therefore to recognise the difference between progression, continuity and sequence.

– Adapted from Assessing Progress in your Key Stage 3 Geography Curriculum (Paul Weeden and Graham Butt, 2009).

Further information on this topic is available in the document ‘Progression, Continuity and Sequence‘ (PDF).


Planning and teaching for progression

The difficulty of using content to measure progress in attainment is outlined by Rawling (2001: 52-64) in her discussion of the development of the first version of the National Curriculum. The use of level descriptions in the revisions of the National Curriculum attempted to remove specific ‘content’ from assessment and identify progression in terms of:

  • Increasing breadth of study
  • Wider range of scales studied
  • Greater complexity of phenomena studied
  • Increasing use made of generalised knowledge about abstract ideas
  • Greater precision required in undertaking intellectual and practical tasks
  • More mature awareness and understanding of issues and of the context of differing attitudes and values in which they arise

Further advice is available in Eleanor Rawling’s 2008 book Planning your Key Stage 3 Geography Curriculum.


Further information

Download: Further reading on progression (PDF)

Look out for advice on assessment and progression coming soon on the GA website.

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