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The primary geography curriculum – Frequently Asked Questions

What are the aims of the National Curriculum for England?

The 2014 National Curriculum for England aims to introduce pupils to ‘the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’

(DfE, 2013)

The geography programme of study has its own distinct section on Purpose of Study:

‘A high-quality geography education should inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Teaching should equip pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and natural and human environments, together with a deep understanding of the Earth’s key physical and human processes. As pupils progress, their growing knowledge about the world should help them to deepen their understanding of the interaction between physical and human processes, and of the formation and use of landscapes and environments. Geographical knowledge, understanding and skills provide the framework and approaches that explain how the Earth’s features at different scales are shaped, interconnected and change over time.’

(DfE, 2013)


What freedom do I have? How much of our curriculum can be local?

There will almost certainly be a high degree of freedom within a national curriculum to teach about local issues, events and places. In England the Department for Education (DfE) has stated that the National Curriculum:

‘is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications. The national curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum’.

(DfE, 2013)

Ofsted makes no direct reference to a national curriculum, but rather expects, and therefore empowers, schools to ‘construct’ their own curriculum:

‘…construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) or high needs, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.’

(Ofsted, 2019)


How is the curriculum assessed?

Assessment in geography is invariably going to be more formative than summative in nature, as pupils continuously build their skills and knowledge across a range of themes. It is important to remember that many fundamentals of learning geography do not change when a national curriculum evolves: place, space, scale, environment, environmental impact, cultural awareness and interconnections remain (Catling, 2019). Progression in geography may therefore also be recognised in relation to these seven ‘big ideas’ or key concepts, each of which should be evident in geographical learning at all ages.

In England the Attainment Target for geography requires that pupils will ‘know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study’, which reflects the DfE view that schools should be ‘free to devise their own curriculum and assessment system’.

As national standards in geography are expressed only through the Programmes of Study, have a look at the Purpose of Study, Aims and introductory paragraph for the key stage: these provide good starting points for defining expectations by the end of key stages 1 and 2.

See our progression and assessment section for further support and guidance.


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