What your child is learning at school

All children in England follow the national curriculum, but do you know what it means? What are the teachers actually teaching them?

What is the national curriculum?

Up until 1988, schools could choose what they taught their pupils. The idea of the national curriculum is to make sure all pupils get a balanced education, using the same set of subjects and standards used by other primary and secondary schools across the country.

It’s worth noting that establishments like academies and private schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum, although they are still encouraged to teach a broad range of subjects, including religious education.

The national curriculum lists the subjects that must be covered and what topics should be taught, plus the levels that pupils should reach at certain ages, such as when they take their SATs exams.

The curriculum is split up into four Key Stages:

Primary school

Key Stage 1: Ages 5-7 (Years 1-2)
At the beginning of their school career, your child will learn the basics of the core subjects, such as maths, English and science, as well as more creative subjects like music, art and design and humanities. This period marks the first time that your child will sit an exam – at the end of Year 2, when they take their first set of SATs.

Key Stage 2: Ages 7-11 (Years 3-6)
Your child’s teachers will continue to encourage their intellectual and personal development, including their second set of SATs, which they’ll sit in Year 6. This time, the papers are marked independently, without the input of familiar staff. They’ll also begin to learn their first modern language – typically Spanish, French or German, although this varies from school to school.

Secondary school

Key Stage 3: Ages 11-14 (Years 7-9)
Moving up to secondary school is a big step in your child’s emotional life, as well as in their education. They’ll study an even wider range of subjects, such as citizenship, if they don’t already, and have the opportunity to meet new peers from other primary schools.

Key Stage 4: Ages 14-16 (Years 10-11)
Arguably the most important stage of your child’s school career, this is the time when they sit their GCSE exams. The core subject are still maths, English and science, but they will also cover foundation subjects and be able to select options from areas such as arts and humanities. If their school has a sixth form, they may continue their study there after year 11, or choose to move on to a college or an apprenticeship.