Why is the general knowledge of Primary School pupils so poor?

If you have never done so, then try giving your class a general knowledge quiz – no not with curriculum questions, rather with questions regarding the world about them.

If like me, you did this with an open mind – and possibly some degree of naivety then (like me) you will be shocked at the result.

The children in my class had NO general knowledge

I Have No Idea


Ask them questions about the curriculum – science, topic work, maths, spellings etc and they all had ideas and answers (makes my class sound great doesn’t it!) – but ask them something about the world around them, something like “what’s the name of the tallest trees in the world?… . they didn’t have a clue!

Now this didn’t just limit itself to certain areas – it was widespread and the more I asked the more I discovered they didn’t know. Until I came to the conclusion that the knowledge gap was just so wide I was going to have to feature this in my teaching programme.

On thinking about it, I came to the conclusion, that this was something I needed to drip feed in constantly rather than teach as lessons. Not that we have any curriculum time left….we are, I think, the educational equivalent of A and E departments, where anything extra is being catered for in the corridors rather than in the main area!

Now I don’t know about you, but I like to finish what I am doing about 5 minutes before lunch or before the end of school. This gives me the flexibility to sort everything and everyone out, calm everything down and have an orderly end to the session or day. It also allows me to throw in quick quizzes ….and as I usually say “you need 3 questions right before you can go” – it then focuses the whole class! There’s nothing more encouraging to a class for the bell to go and to still have 1 more question to answer correctly!

So that’s what we did….at regular intervals I would throw in quick quizzes of general knowledge questions – such things as

  • What is the name of the American president?
  • Name me a country where you could go skiing?
  • Tell me 3 animals that begin with the letter S?
  • What is a mammal – and name two?
  • There are 3 fuels that we can run cars on what are they?
  • Where in the world is the Taj Mahal?
  • Taj

You get the picture….I also used to throw in a feature called “In the news today”…which asked the children about current events; parents later telling me that their child asked to see the news or to read the paper!

All this was in those last few minutes of the day or before lunch. Each time I did this I would repeat many of the questions; so that little by little everyone got to know the answers – then I would extend things with new questions.

Now I know its not major league stuff, and they certainly aren’t the sorts of questions that will be asked at a Rotary schools quiz. But it is general knowledge of the world around  us, and of events happening, and I for one think that’s important.

So,  lets ask the question with our professional hats on – why are the children in our classes so “off the pace” on this sort of knowledge?

These are my thoughts – I am sure you will have your own – they aren’t backed by any sort of evidence and are just that;  “thoughts.”

  • Firstly lets turn towards the National Curriculum – in a blindingly straightforward statement lets say that if the N.C provided this type of knowledge and learning then our children would have a good level of general knowledge. They don’t, so the N.C  obviously doesn’t provide this valuable necessity in our children’s education.
  • Parents and Home – What can I say apart from the fact that it doesn’t seem to be happening here either. This is not a criticism just an observation. Modern parenting is far different nowadays than It was when I was a boy. The family structure where 1 parent worked and 1 stayed at home has, in most cases disappeared and as such time spent with children has possibly suffered. Parents free time with children seems now to be spent ferrying them from activity to activity…does this preclude together time?
  • Time spent as families allows for this transfer of information and learning from parents. (That makes it sound very mechanical doesn’t it!). Car journeys that would be spent playing games with the children are now spent in silence with the children on phones or tablets or watching dvd players. And do mums and dads have spare time to spend teaching children how to cook, grow vegetables or help fix the car or bike….I don’t know, but it is something I used to do with my 2 boys.
  • child helping

Perhaps as Teachers we see a different side of things in the “educating” of our own children and recognise the need for us as Parents to both teach and interact with our families and guide them into the wider world?

I am sure you have your own thoughts on this – if you’ve never tried a general knowledge quiz in class the give it a go. You may be as shocked as I was !

” ok we have 5 questions before we can go for lunch – Question 1………”



2 thoughts on “Why is the general knowledge of Primary School pupils so poor?

  1. Tom

    I used to do weekly GK quizzes with my y4/5 class. The children loved it but I struggled to find any page/books with quizzes for kids already set. Don’t have enough time to create my own.

    1. Charles Watson Post author

      To be honest Tom I just used to make mine up on the spot….include anything that you think relevant and maybe even some curricular reminders from the week! Whatever you do has got to make a difference.


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