Building a curriculum with firm foundations

Something that has always bemused me is the opposition that arises whenever it is suggested that what children learn in the foundation stage should prepare them to be ready for year one. The standard response to this is that the foundation stage is important in its own right and does not exist as a warm up for what comes later. It is there, so it is said, to lay the foundations for future successful learning in terms of child development rather than any specific content.

The passionate advocacy of the foundational role of the prime areas of communication and language, personal, social and emotional development and physical development for all future learning is something I would also champion. Abundant research finds that a strong foundation in the prime areas by the time a child is five is essential if a child is to thrive academically. Without these essentials in place, further learning will be drastically impeded. So any curriculum development that undermines the building of these firm foundations is foolhardy at best. Rushing to build the superstructure before the foundations are secure is a doomed enterprise: foundations being, er, foundational.

However, it is perfectly possible to assert this, and assert it vigorously, while at the same time thinking about the kinds of specific content which might provide a context within which the prime areas can be developed, content that might also be foundational for later more specific learning. It is a false dichotomy to think that it is a case of either promoting the prime areas or having a curriculum that includes specific knowledge and skills that will be built upon in the rest of schooling. Considering the latter does not necessarily undermine the former. It could, of course, done badly. Generally I’m against doing things badly.

For example, there are many concepts in geography where future understanding will be greatly strengthened if this can be built on prior experiences gained in the Early Years. For example, a child who has played with mud, sand and water in the mud kitchen will more readily understand concepts such as erosion and permeability than a child who has not has these first hand experiences. The concept of trade begins with role playing in a shop. Map work needs solid understanding of spatial relationships, and whether or not the revised Early Learning Goals for maths include shape, space and measure, the Early Years curriculum needs to include them as they are foundational for later geographical understanding. (They are foundational for later mathematical understanding too and should form part of any Reception curriculum, whether or not there is a corresponding Early Learning Goal.) Population and the complex idea of population density begins with a firm understanding of conservation of number. Understanding the concept of atmosphere needs foregrounding in experience of power of the wind, of talking about the weather, the sky, looking at clouds. Experiencing lots of different kinds of plants, flowers, trees, mosses, ferns, cacti, seaweed, pondweed, fruits and grains builds firm foundations for understanding the diversity of vegetation. Understanding the crucial role that water plays in our world is supported by experience of water tray play, freezing, evaporation, exploring puddles, rain collection as well as trips to whatever is local, be that a pond, a river or the sea.

Seeing a mountain might be an everyday occurrence for some settings and a logistical impossibility for others, but we can all read stories with a mountain setting and look at pictures and videos of mountains, deserts, marshes, rivers, jungles, the North Pole, the South Pole. We can all look at globes and maps and begin to learn about climate, learning that the poles are very cold and the equator very hot, and they we live in between the two. Don’t underestimate the role of small world either. It may or may not be easy to visit a farm, but everyone can experience small world farm animals, or play with tractors, or the Arctic or a jungle.

Apparently during a recent Ofsted inspection of a nursery, the inspector asked how the setting was preparing the children to be future geographers. Now I fully understand how different this line of questioning is and how at first glance one might be tempted to answer (at least in one’s head) with a rather rude response, as of course the prime areas are everybody’s first (or prime) concern and we are used to thinking about our provision in those terms. However, now that the question has been posed, why shouldn’t we also think about how the environment we provide, the things we talk about, the trips we go on and the books we read can play a part in building firm foundations for understanding the world? Why shouldn’t we think about what foundational geography might consist in? So I would suggest should any Early Years professional or geography leader be asked about how Nursery provision ‘prepares children to be future geographers’ they direct the questioner to the sand and water trays, the mud kitchen and the building blocks.

Physical geography and science are rather easier to think about in this way as they involve concrete things you can touch. (And hats off to the Reception class I visited last week which had a tuff tray full of root vegetables including what I though was an enormous, leafy, soil-encrusted carrot which I then learned was actually a sugar beet!) Foundational RE can use artefacts. Visitors and visits are easier for some locations than others. Stories of course are crucial here, and again small world play can reinforce what has been talked about or experienced first-hand.

History is necessarily more abstract in that the past is, by definition, not here right now. The familiar activities of thinking about one’s own development from babyhood (done sensitively of course with regard for those children whose early life is not typical) are central, but we don’t have to stop there. Just as with geography, there are historical concepts we can begin to lay the foundations of understanding for. Encountering kings, queens, princes and princesses in stories and in role play lays the foundation for understanding what monarchy means. Castles, knights, armour and shields may or may not be easy to see on a school visit, but we can all tell stories featuring these and provide role play opportunities to give children opportunities to use the new vocabulary they have learnt. Concepts such as democracy and government begin with personal, social and emotional development. Can we always get our own way? Why do we need rules? What do we do when two people want different things? Or the same thing but there is only one of them? Voting for things, talking about fairness, respect and tolerance are all essential pre-requisites for later historical understanding (as well as being important in their own right, of course).

Stories play a vital role in making the abstract past immediate. If we want young children to understand the world, we need to tell them stories that take them beyond the familiar, whether in time or in space, so that their world expands beyond what is immediate. So stories about notable people and events from the past need to feature in our Foundation Stage curriculum. Where there are places locally we can visit, then visit them, but not everybody is in a place to do this easily. Everybody can invite in an older person to talk about what it was like in the past (you know, the olden days, the 60’s). We can all easily share art works of people and places from the past.

None of this necessarily involves a particular pedagogy. I’m no advocate of a wholesale ‘in the moment’ planning way of doing things, but I can’t see why a well-resourced environment with knowledgeable adults couldn’t do ‘in the moment’ and simultaneously think along these lines. Yes, the prime areas are prime, but they can be expressed within contexts that expand our children’s worlds. I don’t know and have never visited @Oakwood Foundation, (nor know the extent to which they use in the moment planning), but I’d suggest having a look at their inspirational Twitter feed to see children who are being exposed to the wonder and variety of the world. Recent photos include children looking at photographs of various buildings from a ‘Beautiful Yorkshire’ book then using blocks to build a variety of impressive buildings (science, history and geography right there), some beautiful spider pictures after a child was curious about spiders (the setting has a collection of spiders in plastic blocks) and I will always remember being blown away by the fantastic art work the children did based on blood – red cells and capillaries galore.

The role of adults here is of course central, not just in planning the environment but in their own knowledge and understanding of the world.[1] If you want to extend children’s understanding about spiders, then you will have to know at least something about spiders. During an inset day looking at our Foundation Stage curriculum at my previous school, we spent time expanding our knowledge of wolves (since we were about to do some work based on fairy stories featuring wolves). This was not because we were going to have specific lessons on wolves, but so that we could extend children’s learning because we knew lots about them. Otherwise it was easy to limit our interactions to saying wolves were fierce. As a result, we found out, among other things, that wolves only live in the northern hemisphere. How easy it would be to show children a globe and explain that wolves only live in the top half ‘which we call the northern hemisphere’ but not the bottom half, ’which we call the southern hemisphere.’ Then another time that penguins live here ‘the South Pole, in the southern hemisphere’, and polar bears in North Pole, in the northern hemisphere.’ We made sure we knew the name of where wolves live, what their babies were called, how many babies they usually had, what different colours of wolves here are. We thought about the technical language used to describe wolves, that they have fangs and snouts and paws, that they were hunters, carnivores, predators. As a result, our own ability to talk about wolves was richer and more fluent. Then we did the same for other topics. Of course you can’t be an expert in everything a four year old might want to talk about, but you can do what you can, and that isn’t a reason for not doing it at all.

Since children build upon what they already know, it we want children later in their school careers and beyond to be able to think critically about population density, fair trade, sustainability and so forth, we need to ensure they already know the essential pre-requisites without which they will not be able to understand these more complex concepts. Some of this knowing will be the embodied knowing that comes from playing with sand or water. Some of it will be through listening to stories. Some of it will be through visits or listening to visitors. Some of it will because our teachers tell us about it. Lots of it will be reinforced through role play or art or music.

Curriculum development therefore should not start in year one, with the foundation stage cut off and isolated, detached from the rest of the school. We don’t call it the detached stage after all. Yes it has a unique focus in providing those essential foundations of child development upon which later learning will be build, and this should always be at the forefront of our minds. But that does not preclude also thinking about how our provision, our curriculum, prepares (lays a foundation) for what comes later in other ways as well. The two need not be in opposition. When a builder builds foundations, the kind of foundations are determined by what comes later. Light buildings have shallower foundations than tall or heavy ones. You don’t use raft foundations for skyscrapers or pile foundations of a one storey house. The foundation exists and is shaped by what comes next.





[1] Yes of course they also need to know about child development. Of course. That’s fundamental.

Building a curriculum with firm foundations

Curriculum planning: KS2 history

Part 4 in our series of blogs to help primary school teachers plan a coherent curriculum. As with the previous blogs, it is written with the assumption you are using the English National Curriculum, though it is still really useful if you don’t.

Credit as always goes to the author of these pieces Victoria Morris @MrsSTeaches . Details for how to get Victoria to help your school with curriculum development are available in part 1.

Part 1, on geography KS1 is here.

Part 2, on geography KS2 is here.

Part 3, on history KS1 is here.

Key Stage 2 History

In contrast to KS1, the majority of the areas of study for KS2 are stated explicitly. However, there are some choices that will need to be made before you can decide on the specific content you will teach in each unit, and place them in a logical sequence.

  • Select an ancient civilisation for in depth study (one of Ancient Sumer, the Indus Valley, Ancient Egypt or the Shang Dynasty of Ancient China)
  • Select a contrasting non-European society (one of Early Islamic Civilisation c.AD900, Mayan civilisation c. AD 900, Benin West Africa AD 900 – 1300)
  • Select an aspect of local history (depth study or study of change over time)
  • Select an aspect or theme in British history that extends beyond 1066 (depth study or study of change over time)

If your school is an academy or free school, you have slightly more flexibility, so you could select two examples from one of the lists, omit an objective, select two aspects that are later than 1066, or change the focus of some of the units. If you choose to do this, make sure that you can justify why this is best for your children’s learning.

The following are the factors I would suggest you take into account when making these choices of unit:

World history

  • Your pupils’ backgrounds. This could be either to reflect their countries of origin, for example by selecting Early Islamic Civilisation in a school with a significant proportion of Muslim pupils, or to promote diversity by selecting a contrasting culture.
  • The range of continents and countries represented when you consider the units you have selected as a whole – ensure you provide your children with knowledge of the most diverse range of cultures possible (considered in conjunction with choices in KS1 & in geography too)
  • Links to the geography curriculum. For example, Ancient Egypt would provide opportunities to apply knowledge of rivers and deserts if these had already been studied in geography.
  • The opportunities each study would afford for developing understanding of key concepts. Clare has developed a list of these (for history: civilisation, culture, empire, invasion, monarchy, tyranny, rebellion, oppression, democracy, society, community, taxation, source, evidence, chronology. Some of the geography concepts are also relevant to the study of ancient civilisations: trade, settlement and resources). (Developed from the list originally mentioned in this blog

British history

  • Are any of the useful examples provided in the National Curriculum particularly relevant in your locality?
  • What are the most significant aspects of history in your locality? (places, people, events or changes over time)
  • Are any of the British pre-1066 areas of study particularly significant in your locality? If so, you may decide either that this justifies an additional depth study, or that you will select a contrasting period from post-1066 for the local study.
  • Links to the science curriculum. Did any scientists live in proximity to your school? Were any scientific discoveries made nearby? If so, a study of their life and achievements could be enriching, particularly when combined with a trip to their house or a museum.
  • Are there any major gaps in the units of study you have already selected? The aspect of British history extending beyond 1066 is an opportunity to rectify this.
  • Links to UK geography. What region of the UK have you selected for the depth study and is there a significant aspect of British history linked to this region?
  • Themes that will help children to better understand how daily life has changed over time, and that are relevant to their own lives – houses and homes, school, transport, communication, toys, technology, jobs. Are any of these under-represented in your curriculum?

The introduction to the KS2 National Curriculum for history provides a useful description of what the curriculum should look like as whole, so it’s definitely worth reading closely (even though it’s tempting to go straight to the bullet points to see exactly what you need to teach). This states that teachers should combine overview and depth studies, so it’s important to ensure that you have included both across the key stage. While the examples provided in the National Curriculum are non-statutory, it’s worth considering whether any of these would be suitable for your setting, if only because there are likely to be more resources available for these units.

In order to select a clear focus for each unit, as there are limits on the time available, you could consider the following:

  • Use both the list of key concepts and themes referred to above – which ones were significant in the period of time being studied?
  • Fully exploit local places of interest
  • Look for opportunities to build on knowledge from previous units. For example, if you taught children about farming in Anglo-Saxon Britain, include farming, crops and food in your teaching of Ancient Greek life for comparison.
  • Check the wording of each objective carefully:
Unit Focus specified in NC
Stone Age to Iron Age Changes in Britain (so must involve an overview of the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age in order to compare)
Romans Roman Empire AND its impact on Britain
Anglo-Saxons Settlement in Britain

Separate from the next objective

Anglo-Saxon and Viking struggle for England Invasion

Spans the period from approx. 790AD to 1066

Ancient Civilisations An overview of where and when the first civilisations appeared AND a depth study
Ancient Greece Greek life AND achievements AND influence on the western world



There are two different ways you could choose to sequence the units you have selected:

  1. Chronological sequencing starting with the earliest period of time in Year 3.

Advantages – could help children develop a good understanding of chronology, which is one of the aims specified in the National Curriculum.

Disadvantages – the youngest children study the periods that are furthest in the past, with the least concrete evidence available, making them the most difficult to imagine.

  • where there are links with geography and science, sticking rigidly to chronological sequencing in history can result in less than ideal sequencing in other subjects, or useful links being lost (since science units are year group specific).
  1. Place units of study in particular year groups based on cross-curricular links and the complexity of concepts taught within them.

Advantages – maximising opportunities for building on prior knowledge and integrating new knowledge into larger concepts.

Disadvantages – more difficult to develop secure chronological understanding, so the ways in which you will do this will need to be planned for. For example, you could create a school timeline including all the periods of time that are studied, start units by identifying how they relate to previous ones, and provide opportunities for children to practise ordering key people and events from all the periods they have studied so far.

Earliest suggested year group units should be included in, so that knowledge is built cumulatively (this is not essential, just how I would ideally do it):

Year group When unit could first be included:
Year 4 Achievements of ancient civilisations (after the water cycle and rivers as all of these civilisations were built around rivers)

Romans (before volcanoes so that children better understand example of Pompeii; after overview of ancient civilisations)

Year 5 Ancient Greece (after science on forces, earth and space; complex concepts more suited to UKS2; builds on Romans even though it was earlier)
Year 6 Stone Age to Iron Age (alongside or after evolution and inheritance in science so that children have a good grasp on the lengths of time involved when studying prehistory; after the Romans as Roman invasion was end of prehistory)


Additional things to take into account when sequencing:

  • If possible, it would be useful for the units on the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings to come after the Romans so that these three are in chronological order. This way, children would be following the story of Britain before 1066 from beginning to end. However, these units could be placed before the Romans if necessary.
  • Depending on your choice of local study and post-1066 British history units, these may be best placed in Year 3, where they can build on knowledge of the more recent past that children began to develop in KS1.
  • If you selected early Islamic civilisation, it will be important to sequence this after children have learnt the basics of Islam in RE, and in particular about the life of Mohammed.
  • Links to geography. For example, trade, settlements and natural resources are key geographical concepts that are particularly relevant to the study of ancient civilisations. Will you sequence these units before or after children learn about these aspects of human and physical geography?

Unit Checklist

Does the unit include:

  • A geography lesson to orientate children to the place before learning about its history?
  • Opportunities for children to identify connections, contrasts and trends over time? For example, recognising that historically people have settled near water.
  • Historical enquiry questions? For example, ‘Why was the second Roman invasion of Britain more successful than the first?’
  • Opportunities for children to revisit and build on prior learning? For example, if studying the Stone Age to Iron Age after the Romans, children should revisit what they know about the Roman invasion of Britain when they learn that this event marked the end of prehistoric Britain.
  • Opportunities for children to develop secure chronological understanding? For example, regularly ordering people or events from all the periods of time they have studied so far.
  • Links to other subjects, particularly geography, science and RE, where these links enhance children’s learning. For example, children could learn about ancient Greek discoveries relating to the earth and space, such as Aristotle proposing that the Earth was a sphere and the proposal of the heliocentric model of the universe, if they have already covered this in science when learning about ancient Greece.



Curriculum planning: KS2 history

Curriculum planning: ks1 history

This is the third in this series of blogs helping you plan your primary curriculum from Victoria Morris @MrsSTeaches. This one is about ks1 history. You can catch up with the previous two on ks1 and ks2 geography here and here.

I think Victoria’s work here really exemplifies what the phrase ‘the curriculum is the progression model’ means. Curriculum planning is a long game; we lay foundations which others build on. For example, Victoria suggests  if you read Room 13 in key stage 2, you might want to do some light touch work on the dissolution of the monasteries because this will lay the foundation for understanding the history of Whitby Abbey, as well as being valuable in its own right. It would certainly help children no end in when studying secondary school history if they already understood what terms like monk and monastery mean, and have some idea that there was this big argument between the church and the king way back when.

I remember studying the Lady of Shallot with a very capable group of year 6’s, but being slowed down by having to explain terms such as knight which we could have made sure was introduced via small world play in the Early Years then built upon in ks1. I also had to explain about barley and why is was bearded, but that’s a point for addressing via the science curriculum. People who have heard me talk about the curriculum will have heard my anecdote about asking  rural eduTwitter for wheat to show year 1 in October (assuming that harvest took place when we have harvest festivals) and being educated that I was a couple of months too late. Then some kind soul somehow finding some and sending a large box of assorted cereals to school, much to the consternation of the school’s admin officer.

I  would never advocate doing something ‘for Ofsted’ but it is the ability to be able to articulate this kind of  coherent curricular thinking that I assume Ofsted are looking for when they do their deep dives.

ks2 history out next week.

Over to you, Victoria.

Key Stage 1 History

The National Curriculum specifies four very broad areas of study for KS1. As these objectives are so open, there are multiple ways that they can be translated into units of work when planning the curriculum. Each objective will be considered in turn, with suggestions about how to select units of work, and how they could be sequenced.

When making these choices, the following factors would be useful to take into account:

  • What will be studied in KS2 and KS3, as the KS1 curriculum needs to provide a good foundation of knowledge for children to build on later. You may want to consider planning the KS2 curriculum before you plan KS1, and if possible contact local secondary schools for details of their KS3 curriculum.
  • Any gaps that may exist in children’s general knowledge when considering the KS2 curriculum you have planned. For example, as the KS2 curriculum mainly consists of periods before 1066, children may not have an understanding of what knights were and features of castles, which they will probably come across in stories.
  • The texts you plan to teach across the school and the background knowledge needed to access these. How crucial is understanding the background knowledge to the plot? For example, when reading Room 13, a brief explanation of the dissolution of the monasteries to help children understand the history of Whitby Abbey would be useful, but it’s not necessary for them to have studied this in depth. However, if you intend to study Street Child, it would be important for children to have background knowledge of the Victorians in order to access the text.
  • The history of the local area – which figures were important in the history of the area? Did any significant events happen locally? Are there any significant buildings, historic sites or local industries? Thorough research here will help you select topics that are meaningful to your pupils and that can enhance children’s understanding of local geography too.
  • Themes that will help children to better understand how daily life has changed over time, and that are relevant to their own lives – houses and homes, school, transport, communication, toys, technology, jobs.
  • Promoting British Values and children’s moral, social, emotional and cultural development, as well as adding to pupils’ understanding of diversity. For example, selecting the nurses Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole as significant individuals to study could provide rich opportunities for children to both develop empathy, and their understanding of how the nurses’ different backgrounds affected the opportunities that were available to them.
  • Note that there is no requirement to select only one unit of study for each of the four bullet points, so if you have time you may choose to select two or three examples to teach some of the objectives.

Changes within living memory

The guidance in the National Curriculum is that these should be used to reveal aspects of change in national life. The broad themes listed above (home, school, transport, communication and technology) provide a useful focus for this area of study. When selecting which one(s) to focus on, consider those that are most relevant in your local area. For example, if your school has moved to a new building, changes in school life over time may be a good choice, or if there have been significant housing developments, changes to the size of the town and type of housing being built would be relevant. Opportunities for trips and visitors may influence your decision, for example if you have a local dockyard museum, canal or steam railway, changes in transport may be a good choice.

A unit of work on this objective could either track a theme, such as communication, through the decades from the 1920s to the present day, teaching about communication before the telephone, when telephones were commonly used in ordinary people’s houses, the introduction of the internet, ending with the wireless devices and smartphones we use today, and identifying how these changes impacted on people’s lives. Alternatively, life in a particular decade could be contrasted with modern life, looking at several themes such as homes, transport and communication.

Events beyond living memory

The National Curriculum specifies that these should be significant either nationally or globally. Suggestions are the Great Fire of London or the first aeroplane flight, although these are not statutory. Again the history of your local area can help to guide your choices – for schools in London, the Great Fire seems like a logical choice. Alternatively, you may wish to choose an event that is linked to one of the areas included in your geography curriculum.

Another suggestion in the National Curriculum is learning about events commemorated through festivals or anniversaries, for example learning about the reasons why we mark Remembrance Day each year. Themes that are not covered within other objectives could help with your decision – if you aren’t covering transport elsewhere, the first aeroplane flight may be a good way of filling that gap. Finally, consider any gaps in the KS2 curriculum. Are there any events that children will not have learnt about, that you consider are essential for children to know before they leave Year 6? This could be an opportunity to include these.

Lives of significant individuals in the past

The individuals you select must have contributed to national or international achievements. The important thing is that the people you select enable you to compare aspects of life in different periods. This indicates that the pairs of individuals you select should be separated by time.

This objective can be used to ensure that children have sufficient understanding of the features of periods that will be studied later, or that will be useful to provide background knowledge for reading or for local study in geography. For example, if there is a significant amount of Victorian history in your local area, you may select an aspect of Victorian life to study in KS2. In this case, comparing Queen Victoria with another monarch would support more in depth learning about the Victorians later. As a considerable number of classic children’s books were written or are set in Victorian times, comparing the life of a Victorian author with an author from a different period would enable children to access these texts more confidently.

Alternatively, you could select individuals whose lives provided opportunities to build on knowledge in other areas of the curriculum. For example, if the lives of explorers were selected here, that would provide opportunities to reinforce world geography knowledge such as continents, oceans and North and South Poles.

Significant historical events, places or people in your locality

You may want to make this choice last, so that you can choose an aspect or aspects of local history that does not already fit within one of the above three objectives. What have you chosen for your KS2 local history study? Think about what children will need to know to be able to access this unit of work. Would it be beneficial to select a unit that would provide children with useful background knowledge in KS1? Or is there another significant aspect of local history that children will not have the opportunity to study in KS2?

Suggested sequencing

As a general principle, learning should be sequenced so as to move from concepts that are ‘closer’ to children’s experiences in Year 1, to learning about more abstract concepts that are further in the past in Year 2. If you choose to do this, a logical way to sequence the objectives would be to cover changes within living memory and local history in Year 1, with the more complex changes beyond living memory and comparison of significant individuals’ lives in Year 2. However, the way you choose to sequence the units you have chosen is completely dependent on the particular places, people and events you will be teaching. For example, if you have chosen to teach both changes to transport within living memory and the first aeroplane flight, you may decide to start with the first aeroplane flight and then track changes chronologically to the present day. Or if your local study focuses on a Tudor house, this would naturally precede learning about the Great Fire of London. Additionally, links to geography and science may influence your decisions about sequencing. For example, learning about the Great Fire of London is enhanced by children having an understanding of the properties of materials, so it would be useful to place this unit after Year 2 science on materials.

Unit checklist

Does the unit include opportunities to:

  • Identify similarities and differences between ways of life in different periods?
  • Develop children’s understanding of chronology?
  • Find out about the past from different sources of information?
  • Ask and answer questions (following lines of enquiry)?
  • Revisit and build on prior learning and key concepts (monarchy, source, community, chronology)? For example, remembering and ordering the names of previous monarchs studied before introducing a new monarch, or remembering the order in which significant events occurred, adding new events studied to the chronology previously learnt.
  • Develop a thorough understanding of what is important about your local area, and how it has changed?




Curriculum planning: ks1 history

Curriculum planning: ks2 geography

Last week I shared Victoria Morris’  (@MrsSTeaches) fantastic blog advising how to plan ks1 geography.  Over 1770 people have already viewed that one, so I guess it fills a need. Here is part two which focuses (somewhat unsurprisingly) on ks2 geography. Like its predecessor, it assumes you either have to or want to base your curriculum on the English National Curriculum. Particular thanks to @EnserMark for his help for this one.

We hope to get ks1 history up here next week.

If you’d like Victoria to help you with your curriculum, please see last week’s post for details

Key Stage 2 Geography

As there is considerably more content in the KS2 curriculum, I have chosen to focus on the elements that affect how units could be chosen and sequenced. My not having mentioned certain objectives, or parts of objectives, does not indicate a lack of importance – it is because they would clearly warrant a unit of their own (such as rivers or energy). But this guide should not be seen as a comprehensive description of every element needed for a good geography curriculum, but guidance about how to sequence concepts logically and ensure learning builds progressively across the key stage.

In contrast to KS1, the KS2 geography curriculum offers a greater element of choice as to how it is covered. There are more options where particular regions and features can be selected for in depth study, and these decisions should be made while taking into account the principles outlined in the KS1 guide (your pupils’ backgrounds and those represented in the local area, the level of diversity your pupils are exposed to, the human and physical features present in the local area, and the history topics and English texts you have selected). There are also multiple ways in which the objectives could be grouped in order to build units of study. However, there are some considerations that can help you to create a structure within which to make these decisions.

Regional studies

There are choices to be made regarding regions selected for in depth study:

  • understand geographical similarities and differences through the study of human and physical geography of a region of the United Kingdom, a region in a European country, and a region within North or South America

As in KS1, there is the option to combine the study of a region of the United Kingdom with using fieldwork to observe, measure, record and present human and physical features of the local area, or to select a contrasting region of the UK. However, note the difference in language – region indicates study of a larger area than just the town or county in which your school is located. There are nine regions of England (London, South East, South West, East of England, East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, North West) as well as the other countries in the UK.

A region in a European country, and a region within North or South America also need to be chosen. In addition to the possible reasons for making these choices above, it is important to note the aspects of physical and human geography that are specified in the National Curriculum. You may want to select particular regions that contain several of these features, in order to provide opportunities for children to reinforce their learning. For example, Texas includes three different biomes – desert, grasslands and temperate deciduous forest – and Italy contains a mountain range, three volcanoes and the River Po, which is significant to agriculture and industry.

Alternatively, you may find that once you have selected examples of the physical features, there are significant locations in Europe, North or South America that your pupils will not have otherwise met, that you wish to choose as a focus for regional study.

The United Kingdom

You will have already selected a region of the UK to study in depth, either in conjunction with or separately from the study of your school’s local area.

However, there is a considerable amount of locational knowledge relating to the UK, which will need to be taught over more than one unit of work if children are to understand and remember all the concepts listed.

How can you divide the UK locational knowledge into smaller units of work?

  • As there are four countries of the UK and four year groups in KS2, one suggestion could be to have each year group focus on a different country, learning about all the key features listed (counties, major cities, geographical regions, human, physical and topographical features and land use patterns) in that country.
  • Alternatively, to allow for more revisiting of places in England, you could allocate Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to Years 3 – 5, as well as allocating one or two regions of England to each of the four year groups. This would provide children with more opportunities to practise identifying major cities and counties of England on maps so that they can remember what they have learnt in the long term.
  • You could map the different UK locations that are met throughout the key stage (eg. in history topics, as settings in key texts, referred to in any other foundation subject learning, visited on residential trips or through links with other schools) and allocate some time to identifying the features listed in the curriculum for that place.
  • When you teach the local area study in history, consider taking the opportunity to link this with aspects of the geography of your local area, covering the requirement in the geography curriculum for children to identify how aspects of UK geography have changed over time. For example, if you are teaching the history of immigration to the East End of London, you could link this with changes in the Docklands over time, the geography of the River Thames and land use patterns in the area.
  • Ensure that you are fully exploiting local places of interest that can enhance learning in the foundation subjects, and at the same time use these to develop children’s understanding of the geographical features of the local area and how these have changed over time. For example, if your school is within visiting distance of the home of a scientist who is significant to the KS2 programme of study, allocating some time to the history and geography of the location can provide rich cross-curricular learning opportunities.
  • When you plan for units on physical features such as rivers and mountains, ensure that you include examples that are significant in both the UK as a whole and in your local area. For example, children should know that the River Severn (whose source is in Wales and estuary in England) is the longest river in the UK, but could also learn that the River Thames flows through London, which is the capital of England, and that the Firth of Forth is the estuary of several rivers and is near Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. This is an opportunity to revise knowledge of the countries and capitals of the UK from KS1.

Links to Science

As in KS1, there are links to be made with the science curriculum. Part of the Year 4 study of states of matter includes learning about evaporation and condensation within the water cycle, so it would make sense to combine the science and geography aspects of the water cycle within one unit of work in Year 4. As rivers form a part of the water cycle, a logically sequenced curriculum would include rivers either later in Year 4 than the water cycle, or in a subsequent year group.

The physical processes of mountain formation, volcanoes and earthquakes all require knowledge of the structure of the earth, which it seems logical to teach after children have learnt about the science of rocks in Year 3. In addition, having an understanding of metals and changes of state is useful in this topic (as the earth’s core is made of molten metal and magma is molten rock), and these are taught in Year 5 materials science, so teaching mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes together late in Year 5 or in Year 6 maximises the opportunities to build on these scientific concepts.

Climate zones and biomes

The remaining elements of physical geography, climate zones and biomes, can be linked with the following locational knowledge objective:

  • identify the position and significance of latitude, longitude, Equator, Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Arctic and Antarctic Circle, the Prime/Greenwich Meridian and time zones (including day and night)

The Earth is split into three climate zones – polar, temperate and tropical – by the lines of latitude (including the Equator and Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn). These divide the world according to annual temperature and precipitation. Knowledge of lines of latitude also includes understanding that the Equator splits the Earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and that the Artic and Antarctic Circles are in the polar zones.

Biomes are distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared climate. It is important to note that biome is a broader term than habitat, as a biome may include many different habitats. Credit: There are several different ways of classifying biomes, so it’s important to choose which one you will use as a school. A suggested list is: taiga, tundra, temperate deciduous forest, scrub forest, grassland, desert, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest.

Key features of biomes to teach are the annual temperature and precipitation data (including seasonal change), and how these affect the types of vegetation and animal species found there. Due to the link with habitats, ideally this unit should be taught after the Year 4 science on living things and their habitats. Knowledge of how climate relates to the living things that make up a biome feeds logically into the Year 6 science objective:

  • identify how animals and plants are adapted to suit their environment in different ways and that adaptation may lead to evolution.

So ensuring children have a secure understanding of climate zones and biomes before this science is taught in Year 6 would ensure that they are fully prepared for this new learning.

The remaining elements of the locational knowledge objective – lines of longitude, the Greenwich/Prime Meridian, and time zones – can be taught either later in the same unit, or as a separate unit later in the key stage. Although for convenience time zones often follow national boundaries, they roughly correspond to the lines of longitude, of which the Prime Meridian is the most significant, as it marks 0 longitude. There is a link to Year 5 science on day and night – whilst it is not essential to teach time zones at the same time as this science knowledge, it would certainly make sense to have taught the basics of why we have day and night before teaching time zones. Therefore, this unit should ideally be sequenced after Year 5 Earth and Space science.

Table showing the earliest suggested year group in which to teach specific units, in order to achieve logical sequence of knowledge:

Year group When unit could first be included
Year 4 Climate zones/biomes (after Living things and their habitats science but before Adaptation in Year 6)

The Water Cycle (linked with science)

Rivers (after the water cycle)

Year 5 Lines of longitude/time zones (after Earth & Space science)

Mountains, volcanoes & earthquakes (after materials science)


World Locational Knowledge

In order for your children to have a thorough knowledge of the world’s countries (including their environmental regions, key physical and human characteristics and major cities), you will need to plan for plenty of opportunities for retrieval practice and introducing new countries. A useful way of providing additional chances to learn about the world’s countries could be to plan to include lessons that orientate children to countries that feature in other subjects. For example, when learning about the Ancient Romans starting with a lesson on the location and geographical features of Italy, and then following this with a lesson on Greece before learning about the Ancient Greeks, would give children a good understanding of the geography of the Mediterranean.

Aidan Severs (who blogs and tweets as @thatboycanteach) has produced a comprehensive list of questions to ask about places you study, which can be used to help teachers identify the content to include in these ‘orientation’ lessons.

Unit Checklist

Does the unit include opportunities for:

  • Locating places on maps, globes and in atlases?
  • Using mapwork skills (including compass points and grid references)?
  • Fieldwork where possible? The Royal Geographical Society have produced some useful resources to support schools with planning for fieldwork.
  • Regular retrieval practice? For example, labelling countries, cities and geographical features learnt on maps, identifying features learnt on maps or aerial photographs of places or labelling key vocabulary on diagrams.
  • Deepening children’s understanding of key physical (climate zones, biomes and vegetation belts, rivers, mountains, volcanoes and earthquake) and human (types of settlement and land use, economic activity including trade links, and the distribution of natural resources including energy, food, minerals and water) features?
  • Deepening children’s understanding of important geographical concepts? Clare Sealy has created a list of the main concepts that should be taught in primary geography: atmosphere, climate, continent, landform, terrain, environment, resources, biome, fertile/fertility, vegetation, settlement, population, region, trade, development, sustainability, diversity. (Developed from the list originally mentioned in this blog
Curriculum planning: ks2 geography

Curriculum planning: ks1 geography

Having not written a blog for 7 months, I am now posting a guest blog! But it’s really great and should be really useful for those of you thinking about revamping your geography curriculum. This piece has been written by Victoria Morris (@MrsSTeaches) who works at St Matthias School in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets, where I was headteacher until recently.  The process we went through to plan out curriculum started with me sharing the principles with the staff team (see this). Teachers then planned the geography curriculum for their year group. After that, Victoria checked it and revised it so that all aspects of the geography National Curriculum were taught and links between topics were really clear. We then shared the final version during an INSET day. Although if we had had this blog before we started the whole process, that would have saved us an awful lot of time. So don’t do what we did! Involving class teachers is good, but get them to use Victoria’s guidance from the start.

The blog that follows is not the curriculum as such but guidance to help you plan your own. It assumes you will be following the English National Curriculum, though I reckon it is still useful if you are an academy in England or in  a school outside England as though you don’t have to follow the NC, it will still give you some pointers so whatever you choose to cover is at least as comprehensive. Victoria has build on the great work the teaching team did and made it even better, by her painstakingly methodical work and because she also taught herself an awful lot of geography along the way!

We should also acknowledge the support  and guidance we got from Andrew Percival (@primarypercival) and the staff at Stanley Road Primary in Oldham and Jon Hutchinson  (@jon_hutchinson) from Reach Academy Feltham and Mark Enser (@EnserMark) with designing our curriculum.  Though this piece is all down to the wonderful and very talented Victoria.

Ks2 geography guidance will be posted next week and then history the week after that.

Guide to the Primary Geography Curriculum: Key Stage 1

by Victoria Morris

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the first half of this year reviewing our geography and history curriculum, and writing the scheme of work that details the knowledge to be taught in each unit. As part of this process I’ve done a lot of research and reading on the subject content, and greatly improved my subject knowledge, particularly in geography. While doing so, I’ve thought a lot about what the ideal curriculum would look like – what would be the best way of systematically developing children’s knowledge and skills so that they master the KS2 objectives by the time they leave in Year 6? I’ve written some of my thoughts into these subject guides in the hope that they may help other teachers who are in the process of reviewing their curriculum.’

The guide is written on the understanding that your school is teaching the English National Curriculum 2014, and is mainly concerned with how to select content that will ensure you cover the National Curriculum content across each key stage, as well as suggestions as to how the objectives can be grouped and sequenced in order to create a coherent, logically sequenced curriculum. What are you teaching, when, and why?

As the objectives in the Key Stage 1 geography curriculum are mainly fixed and explicit about what children should know and be able to do, the choices that need to be made are mainly regarding the order in which the objectives will be taught, how far they should be broken down into smaller steps, and how many times they should be revisited across the key stage in order to ensure that children remember what they have been taught. (One of the criteria relating to Impact under Quality of Education in the 2019 Education Inspection Framework is that “over the course of study, teaching is designed to help learners to remember in the long term the content they have been taught and to integrate new knowledge into larger concepts.”)

Small area studies

However, there is one objective which requires decisions to be made before you can create a definitive list of the geography that you will be teaching in Key Stage 1:

  • understand geographical similarities and differences through studying the human and physical geography of a small area of the United Kingdom, and of a small area in a contrasting non-European country

First, what will your small area of the UK be? It would seem to make sense to combine this study with the following objective:

  • use simple fieldwork and observational skills to study the geography of their school and its grounds and the key human and physical features of its surrounding environment

In that case, the small area of the UK would be the local area of your school.

Alternatively, you could separate these two objectives, choosing a contrasting area of the UK to study in addition to the surrounding environment of your school. This would be particularly important if your pupils have limited experience of different environments – if your school is in a city, studying a rural or coastal area would be an important addition to your children’s cultural capital.

Secondly, which contrasting non-European country will you choose? There are several possible bases for making this decision:

  1. A location that reflects the background of a significant proportion of the school population or a significant ethnic minority group in the local area. For example, if your school is an inner-city one with a high percentage of Bangladeshi Muslim pupils, studying an agricultural region of Bangladesh could be a good choice.
  2. A location that adds to the pupils’ understanding and appreciation of diversity by providing cultural as well as locational contrast.
  3. A location in a continent that does not feature in Key Stage 2, so choosing it for study in Key Stage 1 will ensure that your pupils have sufficient understanding of a range of countries around the world. I would suggest waiting until you have decided on which locations in Europe and North or South America you will teach in Key Stage 2, as well as the history units you will be teaching. Plot these locations on a world map – is there a continent or country that is not represented, but which you feel it is important for the children in your setting to have experience of?
  4. A location that links to an area of study in a different subject – a history topic or a text that is being used in English. Just be careful that if you make the decision for this reason, the location you select has sufficient learning potential (you’re not sacrificing the geography for the sake of the link).

Whichever reasoning you base your decision on, make sure that you choose an area which includes the physical and human features that are studied in this key stage, since the original objective specifies comparing physical and human geography.

Physical features: beach, cliff, coast, forest, hill, mountain, sea, ocean, river, soil, valley, vegetation, season and weather

Human features: city, town, village, factory, farm, house, office, port, harbour and shop

Suggestions about sequencing

Now you know what needs to be taught, how will you organise this into units of work? What is a logical way in which to sequence these units?

  • identify seasonal and daily weather patterns in the United Kingdom and the location of hot and cold areas of the world in relation to the Equator and the North and South Poles

The first part of this objective (seasonal weather patterns), links to the Year 1 science objectives on seasonal change, which include the requirement to observe and describe weather associated with the seasons, so it would make sense to teach them together. Consider organising this into four short blocks across the year – one for each season at the appropriate time of year – so that children can experience what they are learning about first hand. Remember that there’s a second half to this objective which will need to be slotted in later.

When sequencing the remaining objectives, it would seem to make sense to start with those focused on the UK in Year 1, and gradually widen out to cover the more abstract world locational knowledge in Year 2 (although this sequence is not essential). The following is a suggestion as to how to split the objectives between Year 1 and Year 2:

Year 1 (in no particular order)

  • use simple fieldwork and observational skills to study the geography of their school and its grounds and the key human and physical features of its surrounding environment
  • understand geographical similarities and differences through studying the human and physical geography of a small area of the United Kingdom
  • name and locate the four countries and capital cities of the United Kingdom and its surrounding seas
  • use world maps, atlases and globes to identify the United Kingdom and its countries
  • Identify characteristics of the four countries and capital cities of the United Kingdom

Year 2 (in no particular order)

  • understand geographical similarities and differences through studying the human and physical geography of a small area in a contrasting non-European country
  • name and locate the world’s seven continents and five oceans
  • use world maps, atlases and globes to identify the United Kingdom and its countries, as well as the countries, continents and oceans studied at this key stage
  • identify the location of hot and cold areas of the world in relation to the Equator and the North and South Poles

Of course there are many ways of grouping the objectives into units, which will depend on the location of your school, the backgrounds of your pupils and the history units you choose to teach.  Also, keeping in mind the need for children to regularly revisit and have opportunities for retrieval practice, it will be important to continue to reference and build on knowledge initially taught in Year 1, throughout Year 2. You may also decide to introduce children to the seven continents and five oceans in Year 1, or to split the study of the school and its grounds into two units, with more in depth fieldwork taking place in Year 2 when children have developed a better understanding of measurement and statistics.

Geographical skills and fieldwork

Geographical skills and fieldwork should be included in each unit, with the level of challenge gradually increasing throughout the key stage. As with the locational knowledge objectives, it is vital that prior learning is regularly revisited and built on, so there should be several opportunities throughout both Year 1 and Year 2 for children to practice using compass points to describe locations on maps for example.

When introducing new human and physical features, and new locations, following this routine would be a good way of ensuring that children’s map skills are developed well:

  1. Identify in photographs
  2. Visit in real life if possible
  3. Identify in aerial photographs
  4. Identify on a map (OS map symbols)
  5. Locate on a map of the UK or the world
  6. Describe its location in relation to other places or features studied
  7. Locate in an atlas

This sequence could be gradually developed throughout the key stage, so that by the end of Year 2 children are able to do all of the above confidently.

The unit on seasonal weather patterns provides a good opportunity for developing fieldwork skills by recording temperatures and measuring rainfall. Additionally, the unit of study of the school grounds and the surrounding environment should mainly consist of fieldwork. If you have chosen to study a contrasting area of the UK as well as the school’s local area, additional fieldwork could be carried out on a visit.

Opportunities for retrieval practice

Including an ‘orientation lesson’, which looks at the location of places that are important, using the list of activities above to explore it fully, at the start of each history unit, could be a useful way of providing children with opportunities to revise previous locational knowledge, use their geographical skills, and introduce them to a wider variety of countries.

Additionally, looking carefully at the texts you have chosen to teach from a geographical perspective could provide some useful opportunities. This may be using ‘orientation lessons’ as described above, or it may be identifying human and physical features in illustrations or using knowledge to create a clear picture of a setting. It’s worth noting that while vegetation is on the list of physical features, if plants or trees have been planted by people, such as flowerbeds in a park, they are in fact human features. Illustrations or mentions of different features in stories could help to provide children with plenty of examples (and non-examples) so that they develop a really secure understanding.

Ks2 guidance to follow next week.

If you would like Victoria to have a look at your curriculum or to help you develop it from scratch, then contact


Curriculum planning: ks1 geography

Eat your data raw!

Far be it from me to position myself as the queen of healthy eating. However, even I know that heavily processed food is less good for us than food in its natural, unprocessed state. Whether raw food is really better that cooked food, I very much doubt. However, let’s run with the raw=good, processed=bad metaphor when applied to the wonderful world of school data.

I think the grip that excessive marking had on our schools is finally beginning to wane. At a recent event I was at for early career stage teachers, I asked how many people worked at schools where heavy duty marking was still the norm. About half the room put their hand up. Last year it would have been at least two thirds, if not three quarters. At our open days about marking, our approach seems less revolutionary now to most who attend and more about tweaking their own approach. Just anecdotes, but maybe signs that more sensible time are on the way. Data however, that’s a different matter. How long before the Teacher Workload Advisory Group on Making Data Work. has any impact?

I’ve written before about how we have attempted to strip back our approach to data.  We’ve stripped it back even more since then, and I’m still not quite convinced we’ve stripped it back enough yet. So I eagerly sought out any workshops on data at ResearchEd Kent yesterday, attending excellent sessions by both Becky Allen and Ben White.. I also reread Tom Sherrinton’s blog about the futile quest to ‘measure’ progress. This is my attempt at a synthesis/summary: a smoothie, if you like, of wholesome data goodness.

Processed food is easy to prepare; pop it in the microwave and ping. And the product is pretty uniform. But that ease and uniformity comes at a price to its nutritional worth. Binders, stabilisers, emulsifiers and preservatives are added to the basic ingredients; salt and sugar are added to make it all palatable. The more the basic raw ingredients are mucked above with, the more their essential goodness is compromised.

Raw, unprocessed food, on the other hand, is much more likely to be high in fibre, low in sugar and salt, and free from various kinds gunk. But it doesn’t come conveniently ready to cook. The individual ingredients are stubbornly individual. Transforming them into a meal will take work and each ingredient needs different work: some need peeling, some chopping, some blanching.  The resultant meals are likely to vary somewhat, even when using the same ingredients.

For years we have consumed highly processed data. Data has been aggregated, averaged and spreadsheetified into a highly reportable, easily consumable product. Contrast this with the messy business of trying to report progress when all you have is as assortment of raw data which you can only describe.  Governors and that host of others who would seek to make us accountable are used to being able to swallow down data purée without having to chew; no wonder they turn their noses up at the prospect of roughage-heavy, honest-to-goodness data wholefood.

Flightpaths, graphs and charts often the illusion of certainty, of rigour. They are (relatively) easy to understand. They blend complex individuality into homogenised simplicity; progress in art can be compared with progress in RE or maths or history. Yet this consistency is a consistency in meaninglessness. This is fake rigour, delusional certainty, but oh so deliciously tempting! Who wouldn’t want the sweet taste of certainty, of ‘sciency’ looking graphs, rather than unpalatable messy reality? No wonder we keep on swallowing those blue pills.

The links will take you to better analysis than I can do here, but processed data is bad for us because:

  • Progress isn’t linear. It happens in fits and starts. We might wish it to be otherwise but wish fulfilment is not a good basis for policy.
  • Any attainment measure is an approximation with a margin of error. Yet we imbue data with spurious accuracy.
  • This margin is magnified when ‘measuring’ progress. This is because progress relies on two measures of attainment, both with margins of error. The concomitant statistical ‘noise’ is therefore deafening
  • Even standardised assessments taken across many schools are unreliable because the stakes attached to these tests will differ from setting to setting and class to class. Children do better when they know the test is really high stakes. So schools which (sensibly) downplay the significance of tests are likely to get lower scores.
  • Schools often set ‘off the peg’ tests that don’t match with what they’ve taught. Unsurprisingly, children do less well on stuff they haven’t been taught. This is therefore an exercise in utterly futility.
  • These pointless tests are very expensive, wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere.
  • Teacher assessment that results in grades is notoriously unreliable.
  • Accountability pressures such as linking performance related pay to data amplifies this unreliability.
  • Trying to compare progress in different subjects is a fool’s errand. Progress in writing is different from progress in science. Reducing it to a number because you want to compare things easily is statistically illiterate. [1]
  • The same is true of trying to compare progress of different age groups.
  • Processing and aggregating all this data is very time consuming. It adds to teacher workload. Its very meaningless makes that work all the more irksome.
  • Unless your school is enormous, analysis of results by groups is statistical nonsense, even if the data made sense. Which it doesn’t.
  • Bu the time children have done these assessments, it’s too late to help them. They are a post mortem rather than an x-ray.
  • And none of this this anything to actually help any child learn anything any better – at best it helps managers allocate scarce extra resources at the chosen few. These ‘few’ will probably not include the most disadvantaged as they won’t look like a safe bet for improving progress scores. This is immoral.

So what’s this raw data you mention?

Instead of highly processed rubbish, what will really help us is limited amounts of raw data, by which I mean the results of highly focused tests/quizzes/assessments that tell you something really specific about what each child can or can’t do. For example, a times table quiz, a check of which sounds a child knows, a multiple choice quiz from a recent history topic, an analysis of a ‘cold write’ for a small number of highly specific grammatical features, a fitness ‘bleep’ test, a test of reading fluency. These kind of assessments are ‘granular; they check how much a child has learnt about a small, specific component of whatever they are learning: the fine ‘grain’ of learning. Such assessments might be reported as a simple test score or percentage. What must be resisted at all costs is aggregating all these results in some sort of statistical blender to make one score. That makes as much sense as putting your starter, main course and pudding into a blender in the hope of making a great tasting meal.

With raw data, you can see where the gaps are and go on to do something about them. There is little point in collecting data in the first place, unless you have a plan to use it in some way to do something as a result beyond reporting it.  In fact, as Becky Allen cautions, think about what you want to do – support those whose reading is less fluent, for example – and then collect data that enables you to pinpoint who those children are. Becky goes on to suggest that there is other raw data we could collect that would really help us deploy those precious extra resources to those who most need them.  Instead of CATS tests, year 7’s should start the year with a series of assessments that will pinpoint those with obvious barriers to progress in secondary school.   For example, a simple handwriting task so that schools can then intervene with those whose handwriting is poor or laborious, tests of times tables and number bonds, reading fluency tests. Then in addition to these, support to help those whose attendance or behaviour is poor or who do not do their homework[2]. For all of these, raw ‘live’ data is readily available and useful.  Throw in a test of phonics and substitute analysis of time spent on independent reading for homework and this list makes perfect sense of primary schools too.

I’d add in a bit of benchmarking, checking how we are doing compared with other schools in case we are deluding ourselves that things are fine when they’re really not. We are using comparative judgment for writing and star reader and star maths standardised assessments. Accelerated reader enables us to track how much independent reading children are doing and support those not doing enough.

When it comes to reporting to governors, local authorities, MATs or Ofsted, you will not be able to pull out a conditionally formatted, high processed chart with neatly aggregated data. All you will be able to do is talk about how you know which children are not doing as well as you want them to and what you are doing about it. Which is exactly what Sean Harford says we should be doing. Not that we do things ‘for Ofsted’ but it sure does help when they talk sense.

Unfortunately, we are still obliged to report certain things that make no sense whatsoever, so here we do what we have to, possibly signalling our disapproval along the way. For example, since we still have to report on the impact of pupil progress on our websites, headteachers might like to consider doing this (look at the end).









[1] Although Deep Ghatura would argue otherwise. Maybe I should say that how we do things now is illiterate but there may be another way.

[2] Ben White’’s blog outlines various things they ask pupils about homework which yields really interesting information.


Eat your data raw!


Stephen’s got ADHD.  He’s such a lovable child, but impulse control is not his strong point. His family have taught him that he must take revenge – physically of course – if crossed. This isn’t the most school-friendly of combinations. Paul is in the same class. His dad is in prison for unspeakable things and his mum deals drugs for a local criminal overload. Once, a rumour got out that she had grassed on someone and reprisals were about to take place before the rumour was quashed. Paul is understandably hyper-vigilant, always scanning the horizon for potential threats. He too has been told to hit back should his honour be in anyway besmirched. Paul and Stephen don’t get on. Stacy comes from a chaotic family. The school is working on her conflict resolution skills, but there is some way to go. Things can escalate very quickly. Terry’s oldest brother is in prison for gang-related violence.  Another brother was stabbed in a reprisal attack, and subsequently stabbed someone else in return. So Terry is now earmarked by the rival gang as their next victim. He too, is hyper-vigilant and understandably prone to over-reaction. Abdul has had to move house due to his brother’s drug related gang activity. The police have warned his family that the other gang see them all as potential targets.  Theo is presently living in a refuge since his mum fled domestic violence. He is mostly quiet and withdrawn, but can lash out when feeling threatened. These children are all in the same class.

The school works hard to meet the needs of these children. There is a learning mentor, work on conflict resolution, liaison with agencies, visits to CAMHS for some, all the usual stuff. In the classroom, a careful seating plan, the warm but firm boundaries, the support from a TA and a skilled teacher all work to ensure that most of the time, the children feel safe enough and calm enough to learn.  In the playground there is lots of space and lot of staff and lots of things the children like doing.  The more competitive games need careful supervision. The presence of little children helps – they bring out the protective instinct and staff get to see a more nurturing side sometimes.

Transitions between class and play, or PE, or music or assembly – these are hard. It’s one things scanning a classroom or even a playground, it’s quite another keeping your eyes on an entire line of children in a twisty turny narrow corridor with multiple sets of fire doors, even with a teacher at one end and a TA at another. The teacher has a lining up order, of course, to make sure the more volatile children are separated from each other. But the class like to chat in the corridor, and that means the line bunches up as friends congregate. There is overtaking, and faster people mistakenly bumping into slower ones. If you’ve got high levels of cortisol in your blood and someone bumps into you, you might over-react and attack. Retaliation might then follow. Friends might get drawn in to the fray.

Everybody knows that the corridor is the once place you might get away with an insult or crafty push. You can always say it was an accident. If something did go wrong at playtime, the corridor is a good place to get your revenge. So the stressed ones are on their guard, uptight, coiled up and ready to react, or plotting to avenge their honour in the two minute walk back to class.

Daniel is autistic. He likes rules. If someone overtakes him, or anyone else for that matter, he will take the matter into his own hands and put them back – sometimes physically – in the ‘right’ place. Sometimes he remembers he mustn’t do that and just shouts at them instead. Often this results in an altercation.

These are unpleasant for everyone. It takes at least half an hour to calm everybody down until they are ready to talk about what happens, and another half an hour to establish what went wrong. Time during which those involved, including those on the periphery, aren’t learning and staff aren’t teaching.

Yet this was all so avoidable.

When the school introduced silent corridors, these stress-ridden, hyper-vigilant children could relax.  They felt safe. Because they had to walk in single file, one behind the other, in a set order, there was no bunching, no bumping. No more having to scan your classmates in case someone is ‘cussing’ you. No more worrying if someone is going to get their own back from a problem in the playground. No more holding in your anger at a perceived sight only to vent it in the seconds when you enter the teacher’s blind spot as you round a corner.

The adults were in charge again.

In a different school where not quite as many children had such stressful lives, Susie might have enjoyed strolling in from play, chatting to her friends. She’s calm, well-behaved and doesn’t need the reassuring presence of an adult in order to resolve any problems. However, when the rules change and she isn’t allowed to talk to her friends for a couple of minutes during transitions, she gets it. It’s only two minutes after all, and it’s so much easier for the others. She’s a compassionate child. She willingly accepts this very minor restriction, even when she forgets one day and receives a minor sanction.

This is why we introduced silent corridors. Not in some power-crazed attempt to coerce children to bend to our will, but as a well thought out response, a reasonable adjustment to a high level of need. If your school doesn’t work day in, day out with those kinds of needs (and obviously the above has been fictionalised to a degree – the reality is actually even more challenging), then maybe it seems weird to you. I’m sure you have other challenges I know nothing of and do things I might feel not understand.