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National Curriculum

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What is the National Curriculum?
The National Curriculum is a set of guidelines drawn up by the government to map out the way you learn and also the way you are assessed at school. All schools which are funded by the government (‘Maintained Schools’) use the National Curriculum to make sure that teaching and learning is balanced and consistent.

The National Curriculum sets out:

  • The subjects you are taught at school
  • The knowledge, skills and understanding you are required to have in each subject
  • General standards or ‘attainment targets’ required for each subject which can be used to measure your progress and plan the next steps in your learning
  • How your progress is assessed and reported

The National Curriculum is organised into blocks of learning called ‘key stages’. There are four ‘key stages’ as well as an ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ for children before they reach the age of five.

The National Curriculum for five – 11 year olds
Year 1 and Year 2 of primary school are known as ‘Key Stage 1’
Year 3 to Year 6 of primary school are known as ‘Key Stage 2’

Schools have to teach certain subjects at key stages 1 and 2 as follows:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and technology
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Art and design
  • Music
  • Physical education

You may also be taught religious education but your parents might decide you don’t need to take this subject. You may also be taught personal, social and health education (PSHE) and citizenship as well as a foreign language such as French or Spanish.

The National Curriculum for 11 – 16 year olds
Year 7 to Year 9 of secondary school are known as ‘Key Stage 3’
Year 10 to Year 11 of secondary school are known as ‘Key Stage 4’

During Key Stage 3, you must be taught the following subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and technology
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern foreign languages
  • Art and design
  • Music
  • Citizenship
  • Physical education

Schools also have to provide:

  • Careers education and guidance (during Year 9)
  • Sex and Relationship Education (SRE)
  • Religious education (but your parents might decide you don’t need to take this subject)

During Year 9 you will be asked to make some choices about the subjects you want to study at Key Stage 4. Your studies in many of these subjects will hopefully lead to nationally recognised qualifications such as GCSEs. Your teachers and parents / carers will help you make choices during this year and will advise you to choose a balance of subjects to give you more options when deciding on courses or jobs in the future. It is important to balance those subjects you enjoy and do well in with those you and your teachers feel will be important in the future.

During Key Stage 4 you will study a mix of compulsory and optional subjects – depending on the choices you made during Year 9. The subjects you will have to study are as follows:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Physical education
  • Citizenship

In addition, you will have to take careers education and work-related learning. Schools must also offer religious education, SRE and at least one subject from each of the four 'entitlement' areas.

The entitlement areas are:

  • Arts subjects
  • Design and technology
  • Humanities
  • Modern foreign languages

If you would like to find out more about the National Curriculum and how it affects you, please visit the links given below.

It is possible for a school to decide to ‘disapply’ (which means ‘not use’) the National Curriculum for some or all of its pupils. This might be because teachers think that some pupils would learn better by following a different set of guidelines. Also, some children and young people are taught at home and so may have a different set of learning guidelines designed for their specific educational needs. Please refer to the information on Individual Education Plans and Mainstream or Special School Placement Decisions / Dual Placements, in this Good Practice section of the website for more information.

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Get help from...   


Skill: young learners pages The young learners section of the Skill website is dedicated to students with disabilities and offers a range of information and advice, including a ‘Have Your Say’ section.

DirectGov - Information for young people Information for young people about their school choices between the ages of 14 and 19.

Making Choices About Leaving School A useful information sheet about making choices after leaving school – see below for link to the Thinkpad which can help you work through your own choices. Making Choices About Leaving School THINKPAD

Information for parents
ACCAC (The Qualifications Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales) (2000) A structure for success: guidance on the National Curriculum and autistic spectrum disorders. ACCAC Publications. Looks at key issues for managing learning in pupils with autism spectrum disorders, curriculum planning and access to the National Curriculum.

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Links


Information for children and young people:
DirectGov - information for young people Information for young people from the government about all aspects of your learning.

The National Curriculum Detailed information from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority about the current National Curriculum and how if affects your school life.

Information for parents:
The National Curriculum Detailed information from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority about the current National Curriculum and the way it affects how children are taught in school. Includes latest news and updates.

DirectGov: information for parents Information for parents from the government about all aspects of the National Curriculum.

BBC Schools - information for parents Information for parents about the National Curriculum and how to help your child at school

Parents Centre: Learning Journeys Information from The Parents Centre about the National Curriculum with detailed information for each Key Stage.

Disapplication of the National Curriculum Information about when the National Curriculum might be disapplied.

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Case studies


Horsesmouth: online forum An online forum written by and for children and young people giving advice about all aspects of life including school and learning. Includes a ‘mentor’ system to offer specific advice about popular topics including making choices about school.

Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities Read or listen to the views of some young people talking about their aspirations and making choices after leaving school.

Curriculum in Action: Key Stage 3 and 4  Examples of how schools have implemented the curriculum across the full range of subjects to enthuse and encourage a wide range of pupils in Key Stages 3 and 4.

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