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Leading Primary Geography

This section provides guidance about developing excellence across the school through effective leadership

What makes an effective leader of geography?

Generally, good provision could be linked directly to the head teacher’s support and the quality of the subject leaders. Good subject leaders had usually had the role long enough to effect changes. They had often had some training in geography, sometimes as their main subject during their initial training or frequently because they had engaged with subject associations for geography. They had often undertaken a very thorough audit of teachers’ skills and competencies in geography and, as a result, had constructed a clear programme of professional development. A good policy for the subject was reviewed regularly. Work in geography was monitored regularly and evaluation of provision had often led to a clear and manageable action plan.
Ofsted (2011) Par.32

You need to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject in order to build confidence and enthusiasm in others. You also need to be able to prioritise. As Ofsted note, the importance of the head teacher is crucial. If you have just taken over the role, do a quick audit to assess the health of the subject. You can download the headline evaluation criteria for the Primary Geography Quality Mark from the Geographical Association and use this as a guide to see where strengths and weaknesses might be. Why not print off copies and ask other staff to complete this tick sheet as a quick starting point? The headings are the same as those used by Ofsted for the 2015 school inspection framework.

You will not be able to change or develop everything at once so talk with staff to identify some priorities. You might investigate some of the following.

  • How much geography is happening in the school and what is the impact?

  • How rigorous is it?

  • Do all year groups undertake fieldwork?

  • How much planning is in place?

  • What do children think about their experiences? Do they enjoy geography and are they making sufficient progress?

  • What kind of CPD support do staff need?

  • How up to date are resources and are they sufficient?

  • Do you have access to ICT including internet and digital mapping programmes and software?

  • How much is the school budget for geography?

Beginning to have impact

Strong leadership

Outstanding leadership

There is some lively geography taking place in school. Staff have been consulted and priorities drawn up for the subject. An action plan is in place.

The majority of the school are engaged with high- quality geography. Pupils are making good and excellent progress and enjoy geography. A programme of effective fieldwork is in place.

As well as high-quality geography happening across the school, there are strong links with the local and wider community. The Subject Leader and school share their expertise more widely.

How do we start to plan a new curriculum for geography?

One key priority might involve an overhaul of the geography curriculum. This may seem daunting and is not something that can be done overnight. Rather than starting from scratch it is helpful to identify what you already do well first. Consider the following points.

How much of the National Curriculum for Geography do you already cover? It can be helpful to start by doing an audit. For example, you could use a staff meeting and ask people to bring their planning. Provide a photocopy of the geography National Curriculum for each year group and a coloured highlighter pen. Ask each year group to highlight what they already cover. This will help you identify gaps and unnecessary repetition.

What geography do teachers already enjoy and want to keep? What do they hate and want to ditch? What do they feel less confident about? Use a staff meeting or a questionnaire to find out and note areas of concern.

What do the children think? It’s important, and good practice, to find out what pupils enjoy or dislike and why. Either ask the class and note their responses or use a more formal questionnaire or interview session to find out. Use all these points to hone what you already do and discuss how to augment this. You may wish to refer to some of the points in section one of this resource, titled 'Starting to Plan'.

How do we develop an effective vision?

Geography is such a diverse subject that it can be very effective to give it a clear identity within the school and curriculum. One way to do this is to have a vision for the subject that all stakeholders have participated in. What can the subject do for your school? How does it support your school context and pupils’ needs? How can it support the overall school vision? 
Canvass pupils, staff and governors about the purpose of geography and its value within the school community. Designing a common statement of purpose together through democratic consent can be a very powerful way of developing further conversations about the subject. 
Following this work you might also consider an application to the Geographical Association from your school for a Primary Geography Quality Mark.

What do Ofsted say?

The last geography subject report from Ofsted in 2011 ‘Learning to make a World of Difference’ highlights the strengths and weaknesses at that time along with recommendations and examples of good practice. It is a useful document to have to hand when starting to prioritise areas for an action plan.

The Ofsted Inspection Framework (2015) emphasises a broad and balanced curriculum. There is much in the Outstanding Criteria that imply the importance of robust geography. Download the document ‘Ofsted Inspection Framework 2015 and Implications for Geography’ to see some relevant extracts and commentary. This is a useful document to use to gain additional support for the subject in school, especially from senior leadership teams and head teachers.

Useful Links

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Ofsted inspection framework 2015 and implications for geography


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Ofsted inspection framework 2015 and implications for geography (1)


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