How the national curriculum works

This page refers to the National Curriculum 2014 for England.

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have separate guidelines.

Overview

The national curriculum began in 1989 and was most recently revised in 2014. It is a set of subjects and standards used by schools so that all children learn the same core topics.

It explains which subjects are taught and the standards children should reach in each subject.

Key Stages

The national curriculum is organised into blocks of years called ‘key stages’ (KS).

At the end of each key stage, your child will take a formal assessment.

Key stage 1 (ages 5-7)

Compulsory national curriculum subjects at primary school

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and Technology (DT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Physical Education (PE), Including Swimming
  • Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)
  • Computing
    • Religious Education (RE) - This must be provided but parents can ask for their children to be taken out of the whole lesson or part of it.

Test and Assessments

Baseline assessment on entry to school

Tasks and tests for Key stage 1 cover:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking and listening
  • Maths
  • Science
  • English (including S.P.A.G - spelling, punctuation and grammar)
AgeYearAssessment
5 to 6Year 1Phonics screening check - The check will take place in June when your child will read 40 words out loud to a teacher. You’ll find out how your child did, and their teacher will assess whether he or she needs extra help with reading. If your child doesn’t do well enough in the check they’ll have to do it again in Year 2.
6 to 7Year 2Teacher assessments in English, maths and science.

Key stage 2 (ages 7-11)

Compulsory national curriculum subjects at primary school

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and Technology (DT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Foreign language
  • Physical Education (PE), including swimming
  • Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)
  • Computing
  • SMSC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development) and Religious Education (RE) - This must be provided but parents can ask for their children to be taken out of the whole lesson or part of it.

Test and Assessments

At this stage, tests cover:

  • English reading
  • English grammar, punctuation and spelling
  • Maths (including mental arithmetic)

The tests are taken in mid-May and last under 5.5 hours in total and you’ll get the results in July.

AgeYearAssessment
7 to 8Year 3Teacher Assessments
8 to 9Year 4Teacher Assessments
9 to 10Year 5Teacher Assessments
10 to 11Year 6National tests and teacher assessments in English, maths and science.

Key stage 3 (ages 11-14)

Compulsory national curriculum subjects

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern foreign languages
  • Design and Technology (DT)
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Physical Education (PE)
  • Citizenship
  • Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)
  • Computing
  • SMRC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development) and Religious Education (RE) - This must also be provided but parents can ask for their children to be taken out of the whole lesson or part of it. Sex Education - This is a compulsory subject but parents can ask for their children to be taken out of parts of the lesson.

Test and Assessments

AgeYearAssessment
11 to 12Year 7Teacher assessments
12 to 13Year 8Teacher assessments
13 to 14Year 9Teacher assessments

Key stage 4 (ages 14-16)

During this stage most pupils work towards national qualifications - usually GCSEs.

The compulsory national curriculum subjects are the ‘core’ and ‘foundation’ subjects.

Core subjects

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science

Foundation subjects

  • Physical Education (PE)
  • Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)
  • Citizenship

Schools must also offer at least 1 subject from each of these areas

  • Arts
  • Design and Technology (DT)
  • Humanities
  • Modern foreign languages

Optional subjects

  • Religious Education (RE) - Pupils don’t have to take exams in religious studies but schools must provide at least 1 course where pupils can get a recognised RE qualification.
  • Some parts of sex and relationship education are compulsory - these are part of the national curriculum for science. Parents can withdraw their children from all other parts of sex and relationship education if they want.

Test and Assessments

AgeYearAssessment
14 to 15Year 10Some children take GCSEs
15 to 16Year 11Most children take GCSEs or other national qualifications