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Curriculum intent

Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework (EIF) 2019 defines curriculum intent as ‘the extent to which the school’s curriculum sets out the knowledge and skills that pupils will gain’. Working out the intent of your school’s geography curriculum means determining:

  • specific themes and topics to be included in the geography curriculum and which concepts, places, case studies and skills will be addressed through these
  • what makes this content the most appropriate and useful for pupils in the school
  • how the sequencing of this content helps to build pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills in geography over time
  • clear expectations around what pupils will know and be able to do with their geographical knowledge and skills at curriculum ‘end points’ such as the end of a key stage.

Crucially, the geography curriculum also needs to engender the excitement, creativity and critical thinking about the world that will equip young people to make their own way in it. Shaping such a curriculum is no trivial task. As the diagram below, from Teaching Geography ‘Geography from 2014: back to the future‘, makes clear, there are a number of considerations to balance out at the local level.


Important curriculum questions - Kinder 2014 adapted from Rawling 2007
‘Important curriculum questions’, Kinder (2014) adapted from Rawling (2007)


One way to start this process is to make use of the aims and objectives of the geography national curriculum, the requirements for GCSE and A level geography and documents such as the GA’s Framework for the school geography curriculum. For example, you could use this document, based on the Geography National Curriculum Programmes of Study to ask some searching questions of your current geography curriculum and as a tool to help plan and prioritise further changes.


Planning for progress

As Richard Daugherty has observed, if we did not hope that students will progress we would have no foundation on which to construct a curriculum or embark on the act of teaching (Daugherty, 1996).

Turning intent into a worthwhile curriculum involves thinking carefully about three related planning concepts: continuity, progression and sequencing. For a full explanation of these terms and how they are used in planning and assessment, read Assessing progress in your KS3 geography curriculum. In brief:

  • continuity means the maintenance and development of different aspects of geography within the curriculum e.g. certain geographical concepts and themes
  • progression means the measurable advances in knowledge, understanding and skills made by students in their studies over time (hence its close links to assessment)
  • sequencing refers to the ordering of the content and activities, which should support both continuity and progression.

Effective curriculum planning and teaching also depends on teachers having very clear notions of expectations and standards within their minds and treating the identification of assessment opportunities and approaches to assessment as an integral part of the planning process. However, progression in geography defies a simplistic description or a straightforward scale of measurement.

Part of the difficulty is that progress 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 a shift to next level of thinking) may not be the same for another. Consequently, 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:

  • demonstrating greater fluency with world knowledge by drawing on increasing breadth and depth of content and contexts
  • extending from the familiar and concrete to the unfamiliar and abstract
  • making greater sense of the world by organising and connecting information and ideas about people, places, processes and environments
  • working with more complex information about the world, including the relevance of people’s attitudes, values and beliefs
  • increasing the range and accuracy of investigative skills, and advancing their ability to select and apply these with increasing independence to geographical enquiry.

Visit our assessment support and guidance section for more information.


Developing geographical thinking and skills

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… and so on. Geographical insights also come from the tension between the universal and specific: processes and phenomena play out differently from place to place and geography recognises that this matters. Thinking geographically therefore offers a uniquely powerful way of seeing the world.

We need facts in order to think, but we also need concepts to enable us to group information or facts together. The three main organising concepts of geography are frequently said to be place, space and environment, while the GA’s Framework for the school geography curriculum adds Earth systems as a fourth key concept. These key ideas frame the unique contribution of geography as a subject discipline and can be applied to identify a question, guide an investigation, organise information, suggest an explanation or assist decision-making.

In 2021, Ofsted published a research review into factors that influence the quality of geography education in schools in England. The report acknowledged the importance not only of learning well-sequenced geographical content, but of learning geography as a discipline.

From a GA perspective, ‘disciplinary knowledge’ means learning with and about geographical key concepts, practices and applications.  It is geography’s disciplinary features that make the study of substantive world knowledge meaningful, worthwhile and distinctive.


Further support


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