Any national curriculum will be designed to be the starting point or minimum requirement for geography provision in your school. The unique character, setting and community of each individual school will determine the breadth and depth of the geographical knowledge, skills and values covered. The ‘Purpose of Study’ and the ‘Aims’ in the Programmes of Study explain succinctly the philosophy that should be at the heart of geography teaching and learning at primary level and why.
Geography forms part of the statutory primary National Curriculum in England (DfE, 2013) and must be taught in all local-authority-maintained primary schools; this does not include academies or free schools.
The ‘Purpose of Study’ and the ‘Aims’ in the Programmes of Study (DfE, 2013) explain succinctly the philosophy that should be at the heart of geography teaching and learning at primary level and why.
The National Curriculum’s areas of knowledge, understanding and skills describe geography’s richness, scope and potential very well. Fieldwork is a mainstay of geography education and is specifically identified in the curriculum framework as an activity that deepens understanding. Each school has a unique environmental and social context for investigation and exploration that can open a window to the wider world and the complexities it holds.
The ‘Subject content’ for key stages 1 and 2 sets out the skeletal aspects of knowledge that need to be covered, although how this is used and how it is put together is very much up to individual schools. This allows schools to develop their own schemes of work reflecting the aforementioned unique opportunities afforded it. This ‘core’ knowledge provides pupils with sufficient vocabulary and understanding to begin to engage in meaningful and relevant dialogue. It is a starting point for conversations about our world but will need to be augmented with other ‘stories’ about places to keep the geography relevant, contemporary and anchored in the real-life experiences of the pupils. Guidance on the creative act of interpreting a curriculum specification or scheme of work and turning it into a coherent, challenging, engaging and enjoyable scheme of work can be found on the curriculum making page.
Enquiry is a key approach in geography and is pivotal in supporting pupils as they actively collect, interpret and assimilate core knowledge in relevant contexts, as stated in the ‘Aims’. The power and impact on long-term memory of using real places, real experiences and real issues to make the geography ‘come alive’ cannot be understated. Although written for secondary school teachers the opening chapters of Geography Through Enquiry (Roberts, 2013) clearly extol the value an enquiry-led approach to learning. Leading Primary Geography: The essential handbook for all teachers (Willy, 2019) refers to the importance of enquiry throughout.
Scotland takes a holistic approach to its primary education through a Curriculum for Excellence (Education Scotland, updated 2019), and although geography is not a discrete subject within the curriculum it is well-represented in two of the eight curriculum areas (social studies and sciences). The aim is to provide a broad general education that builds an understanding of the world, Scotland’s place in it, and the environment, including sustainability.
Currently Wales is undergoing a curriculum review and although at present geography sits as a discrete subject this is due to be revised in 2022.
Current curriculum: the emphasis for Foundation phase (up to the age of 7) is on ‘embracing’ a knowledge and understanding of our world through enquiry, investigation and experiential learning about the world around them. The pupils are encouraged to express ideas, opinions and feelings with imagination, creativity and sensitivity. In key stage 2 through the study of their ‘own Welsh locality, the world beyond, different environments and events in the news’, pupils ‘develop their understanding of what places are like and how and why they change’ (Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, 2008)
From September 2022 the curriculum will be divided into six areas of learning and experience, with geography forming an integral part of the humanities area. Within the curriculum there will be ‘What Matters Statements’, which cover the content and skills, and ‘Progression Steps’, which cover assessment. Across all six areas there will be four golden threads or ‘purposes’ aiming to make all pupils:
- ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
- enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
- ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
- healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
These will, in turn, be underpinned by four core skill sets: Creativity and innovation, Critical thinking and problem-solving, Personal effectiveness, and Planning and organising. (Welsh Government, 2020)
In Northern Ireland the curriculum is set out in six Areas of Learning, across which teachers are encouraged to integrate and make relevant connections for pupils. The overarching aims being to develop pupils as: Individuals, Contributors to Society and Contributors to the Economy and Environment. Geography is taught within ‘The World Around Us’ where ‘children should have opportunities to use their senses in order to develop their powers of observation, their ability to sort and classify, explore, predict, experiment, compare, plan, carry out and review their work’ (CCEA, 2019)
A national curriculum sets out ‘the core knowledge and understanding that all pupils should be expected to acquire in the course of their schooling’, but a core curriculum is exactly that – a ‘core’ – and should not form the entirety of what pupils learn. A local and personalised element to the curriculum is essential to ensure that pupils are engaged with innovative and enjoyable learning that has relevance to their lives while challenging them to think about real-world contemporary issues.