How do you design your curriculum?

Towards the end of last term, as we started to review our Expect Excellence action plan, my thoughts shifted towards our next goal. I have become increasingly concerned that over the years our focus has been on how we teach and that we have taken our eye off what we teach – and why we teach it. And it looks as though we are right on trend, with OFSTED talking about focusing on a school’s thinking behind their curriculum design and whether it is fit for purpose. Our goal this year is on making sure we have an excellent curriculum. 

Our first step has been to review our KS3 curriculum. A few years ago, before I started, it was truncated to two years and this was quickly followed by a reform to the national curriculum and now reforms to GCSE and A level. Changes to KS3 have taken place at each point but never a detailed root and branch review. 

My starting point was to think of what an excellent 7 Year Geography course, which just happened to be interrupted by a GCSE exam after 5 years, would look like. We also need to acknowledge that some pupils will leave the course after just two years and we therefore have to ensure that they leave us as the best Geographers possible. 

So we looked at our two year course as an introduction to Geography and considered the question “What are the absolute basics that we would expect any educated person to know about our subject?” We drew up a list and then started to think about how they would fit into different topics and link to a study of place. 

We also decided that we wanted a clear sense that the course was going somewhere and that synopitic links between topics would be explicit, giving opportunities to revisit previous learning. In fact, we wanted to make sure that ‘learning’ and not ‘doing’ sat at the heart of our curriculum. 

This is the program of study we came up with.

Year 7

  • Comparing Places
  • Shaping the Landscape
  • Work of Geographers
  • Emerging Economies
  • Making the Weather
  • Sustainable Living

Year 8

  • Tectonics
  • East Africa
  • Making Landscapes
  • Russia’s Place in the World
  • Investigating Haiti
  • Structured Enquiry 

This rough and ready diagram helps to show our thinking about how the units connect and build on each other.


Whilst we don’t want to fall into the trap of planning a five year GCSE course I do believe that if we focus on pupils truly learning their KS3 geography, and not simply doing it, it should mean that they have the basics to hand before they start the course. 

Over the next two years we will rewrite each of these units one at a time; but as we do so we will keep the end point in mind – the desire to create excellent Geographers. 

How do you create your curriculum? What purpose does it serve? Let me know. 

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