Compassionate Geography: #1 Curriculum that tells a story

Geography allows us to open the world to our students from our classrooms. As Michael Palin put it, ‘Geography is a living, breathing subject, constantly adapting to change. It is dynamic and relevant.’ It is that dynamism and relatability that drives our curriculum development in Geography at St Modwen’s. Christine Counsell wrote in her 2018 blog post, ‘Curriculum is content structured as narrative over time.’ 
Curriculum should tell a story; a story that our students can learn from and get lost in. 


We want our curriculum to be underpinned by big ideas that develop over time. A year 6 child should be familiar with the rhythm of our curriculum, meeting recurring themes as though old friends. This familiarity is important. As they pattern spot within our curriculum, they become more likely to make meaningful connections.

The National Curriculum divides the Geography curriculum into four subcategories:

  • Locational knowledge
  • Place knowledge
  • Human and physical geography
  • Geographical skills and fieldwork

These subcategories are helpful but not completely distinct - there are clear and necessary comparisons to draw between them. You cannot effectively teach about a place without delving into the physical and human processes or exploring the geographical vocabulary. So, whilst we have clearly mapped out progression in these areas, we also want to develop strong, underpinning themes that marry the National Curriculum with our bespoke offer.

Our Aim

We want our students at St Modwen’s to be interested in their planet and knowledgeable about how it continues to develop over time. We want them to engage in meaningful fieldwork linked to that growing knowledge. We want our curriculum to highlight the role our students must play as global citizens. But above all else, we want to recognise how the physical process of geography interacts with humanity in a variety of ways; some glorious, some tragic. We want our children to empathise, to debate and to form articulate opinions about real life issues around global inequality. In fact, as a Catholic school, if we robbed this subject of compassionate threads such as climate change, poverty and refugeeism, we feel we would be doing our students and the subject a disservice.

The 3 C’s

With these aims in mind, we split our Geography curriculum three ways. Creation. Community. Compassion.

Creation: Physical geography and locational knowledge The physical processes of our planet, and how our continents, oceans and countries join through mapwork and the use of globes, atlases and digital mapping.

Community: Human geography and geographical skills The human processes and how they work alongside the physical geography of our planet through specific examples, fieldwork and case studies.

Compassion: Catholic Social Teaching and the interplay between human and physical geographical processes The politics of geography, the bounds of physical geography, the rights and responsibilities we have as global citizens and the ways in which a geographical home impacts a person’s future.

We believe these three overarching themes allow us to tell a more engaging and clearer story through our Geography teaching. It is our drive to ensure our student’s geography learning is relatable, relevant and riveting that spurs us on to continue this work. The Ofsted Research Review into Geography made clear that an effective geography curriculum should become ‘increasingly challenging as teachers ‘revisit content’ they ‘introduce new, more complex knowledge to deepen pupil’s understanding.’ By building our geography curriculum on these three foundational ideas and the fundamentals of Catholic social teaching, we aim to achieve what the National Curriculum challenges us to do: provide our students with a ‘curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.’

To consider

  • Does your Geography curriculum have a narrative?
    • It is likely that your curriculum is built around themes, even if it was unintentional. As Counsell said, ‘we barely notice we have’ narratives. They do not have to be headlines plastered on every display board. The themes may be more subtle than that. Dig a little deeper and you might find there are themes there waiting to be identified.
  • What is driving your curriculum development in Geography?    

Check out Marc Hayes really accessible summary of Ofsted’s Geography Research Report A Summary of Ofsted's Geography Research Report ( or the book ‘Powerful Geography’ by Mark Enser for some inspiration.

Tom Brassington and Zoe Mallinson