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Key stage 3 geography curriculum

This section provides guidance to support the planning and teaching of geography for 11-14 year old students (in years 7-9). To access the GA online teaching resources for key stage 3 students, visit our Online Teaching Resources section. To access our key stage 3 publications, visit the GA online shop.


Introducing the KS3 geography National Curriculum

The National Curriculum for England was launched in September 2014. The KS3 statutory Programme of Study (PoS) for geography is concise and sets out the core knowledge that students should acquire.

The PoS does not specify approaches to teaching, nor explain how to put the content into a teaching and learning sequence. See planning with the geography national curriculum for guidance on how to undertake these professional tasks.

At KS3, there is emphasis on locational and place knowledge, human and physical processes and some technical procedures, such as using grid references. Fieldwork, the use of maps and written communication are key skills required.

In a Teaching Geography article, Martin (2014) summarised the key features of the KS3 geography PoS, observing that:

  • knowledge of places, people, resources and natural and human environments is regarded as the basis on which understanding of the human and physical processes that create places and shape landscapes must be developed
  • geographical topics are defined as being either ‘human’ or ‘physical’ with links between them identified where appropriate
  • skills such as mapping are used to interpret data, together with a requirement for ‘extended writing’
  • there is a requirement to carry out fieldwork so that primary data can be acquired, processed, presented and analysed
  • there is no requirement to consider values and attitudes or capabilities, such as the application of geographical knowledge or carrying out an enquiry. However, teachers may well regard these as essential features of high-quality subject work and interpret them as being implicit in an understanding the subject’s content.


Creating a coherent KS3 curriculum

A coherent ks3 geography curriculum is one which not only matches (or exceeds) the ambition of the geography National Curriculum. It is also likely to be one where:

  • the selection of content and teaching approach is underpinned by well-grounded learning theory and theory regarding subject-specific content
  • there is a precise focus on key concepts and the knowledge and skills to be acquired
  • the sequencing of content is based on appropriate expectations of challenge and progression and helps to build pupils’ knowledge and skills in geography over time
  • there is regular and effective stimulation of and support for reflection to embed learning.

Martin (2014) suggests a number of aspects of the KS3 geography PoS need interpretation in order to create a coherent curriculum and effective teaching approaches:

  • content is identified by a list of topics, places, processes and skills, leaving considerable scope to choose what is taught, e.g. which countries to study. There is no attempt to identify specific items of information, leaving teachers to decide what is to be taught about places and topics
  • different places and topics have been selected for each key stage in order to both broaden and deepen subject knowledge. Teachers at key stage 3 need to take account of what may have been taught during key stages 1 and 2 so they can build on prior knowledge, understanding and skills
  • teachers need to interpret terms such as ‘regions’ and ‘general geographical features’ and reach decisions about what it means to consider a case study ‘in detail’. This depends on how the key stage course is constructed, e.g. if content is taught to any particular year group
  • there is no requirement to study places at any scale in the UK, though case studies of human and physical processes and topics are likely to be chosen where appropriate
  • teaching about processes, the idea of change over time and human-physical interactions in the context of weather and climate are opportunities to teach about climate change
  • the concepts of places, space and spatial variation, scale, change over time and interconnectedness are mentioned. Although sustainability is not separately mentioned, it could be included as part of work on natural resources, population and other topics.

The article also analyses references to progression and pupil competencies within the KS3 PoS.

In 2021, Ofsted published a research review into factors that influence the quality of geography education in schools in England. The report drew on research, including from the GA, to suggest that careful and deliberate sequencing is required if we wish students to build progressively and securely on their prior learning.

The report references the idea that more discrete components of knowledge can be used to build composite knowledge and that these in turn help to create a more complex and interconnected system of knowledge, or schema.


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