Speed read: Ofsted’s guide to a ‘high-quality’ geography curriculum

Ofsted has highlighted some of the key principles of teaching a “high-quality” geography curriculum in its latest research review.

The inspectorate today published the fifth in a series of subject research reviews. It has previously covered languages, maths, science and religious education.

Ofsted said the research reviews would be a useful tool in helping teachers prioritise catch-up content by explaining the most helpful ways of securing progression.

These are some of the key pieces of advice.


1. Consider pupils’ prior knowledge

The review stated that when choosing curriculum content, teachers should “consider pupils’ prior knowledge and experiences”.

It found that geography had a relatively low status in primary schools and “over time there has been a gradual decline in the amount of time spent studying geography in the classroom”.

In contrast, the number pupils entering geography exams has “increased significantly” in the last decade, with almost half of key stage 4 pupils now studying the subject.

Ofsted added that teachers with “high-quality” curriculums broke down content into “component parts and draw from the breadth of concepts to give pupils the knowledge they need to appreciate the wider subject”.


2. Locational knowledge can help pupils build identity…

Ofsted said locational knowledge – “knowing where’s where” – was one of the mainstays of geographical education and teachers should recognise it helps pupils “build their own identity and develop their sense of place”.

The review added that growth of this knowledge contributes to pupils’ understanding of geographical processes.

“Over time, pupils learn and remember more locational knowledge. They become increasingly fluent in identifying specific locations.”


geography3. …but place knowledge is the most important

The review found that place knowledge – which allows a pupil “to locate or orient oneself with respect to the larger global space and to other places” – was the most important knowledge and should be “prioritised in the geography curriculum”.

This knowledge should be built by linking to places pupils are already familiar with, and built up over time to allow pupils to make “meaningful comparisons”.


4.  Fieldwork should be practised regularly

Fieldwork such as data collection, analysis and presentation should be practised regularly, Ofsted said.

As pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) “generally study the same curriculum scope” as other pupils, it is advised that classroom resources and fieldwork are “adjusted as required to ensure that all pupils take part”.


geography5.  Avoid overloading pupils’ working memory

When teaching a “high-quality” curriculum, “teachers avoid overloading pupil’s working memory”, Ofsted found.

“They break larger concepts or ideas into smaller ‘bite-size’ chunks and teach a small number of these.”

Pupils then commit knowledge to long-term memory through “recalling and repeated practice”.


6. Allocate sufficient teaching time to geography

Ofsted found both the amount of time allocated to geography and the way it is organised “affect the quality of geographical education overall”.

The watchdog advised school leaders to take into account the availability of subject specialist teachers and wherever possible allocated them to teach geography classes.

In addition, non-specialist teachers should be well-supported and receive further professional development.

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