UK Curriculum

The Structure of the English School System

In England, children must attend school from the age of 5 to 18 and many extend their education beyond 18 by entering university or college. 

Primary Education

State pre-school education is available for children aged two to four/five through playgroups and nursery schools. The emphasis is on group work, creative activity and guided play. 

Compulsory education begins at five in England and Wales. At primary level, there is little or no specialist subject teaching and there is great emphasis on Literacy (English) and Numeracy (Maths).

Secondary Education

The majority of state secondary school pupils in England and Wales attend comprehensive schools. These schools provide a wide range of secondary education for children aged 11 to 18, of all abilities, from a particular district (Local Authority area). At secondary school, teachers teach specialist subjects in addition to many cross curricular subjects such as Literacy, Numeracy, Citizenship, ICT and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). 

The National Curriculum in England and Wales

In England, there is a National Curriculum for all state educated pupils. It sets out a clear, full and statutory entitlement to learning for all pupils. It determines the content of what will be taught, and sets attainment targets for learning. It also determines how performance will be assessed and reported. From September 2002, the National Curriculum has included citizenship as part of the statutory curriculum for secondary schools.

In the late 1990s, the government launched National Numeracy and Literacy strategies. The aim of these strategies is to raise standards of primary school pupils in these key skill areas. If you intend to teach primary school pupils you will need to ensure that you are familiar with the requirements of the strategies. The curriculum defines four ‘key stages’, and ten statutory subjects:

  • Key Stage 1 – up to age 7 (school year group 1 and 2)
  • Key Stage 2 – 7 to 11 (school year groups 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  • Key Stage 3 – 11 to 14 (school year groups 7, 8 and 9)
  • Key Stage 4 – 14 to 16 (school year groups 10 and 11)
  • Key Stage 5 – 17 to 18 (school year groups 12 and 13)

Key Stages 1 and 2 are the Primary phase, and Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 constitute the Secondary phase. There are 3 ‘core’ subjects, which are:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science

NB. In Wales, Welsh is a core subject area in Welsh speaking schools

There are 10 other ‘Foundation’ subjects which are:

  • Design Technology
  • History
  • Geography
  • Music
  • Art and Design
  • Physical Education
  • A modern foreign language – French, Spanish, German, Italian
  • ICT
  • Citizenship

NB. In Wales, Welsh is a foundation subject in non-Welsh speaking schools

All children in Key Stages 1 to 3 must study the first 9 of these subjects. In Key Stage 3, they must also study a modern foreign language. Pupils aged 14 to 16 must study the core subjects, technology, a modern foreign language and physical education, plus either history or geography or short courses in both.

For more information please visit the National Curriculum online at or the National Curriculum in Wales online at

Programmes of Study (PoS)

Programmes of study set out what pupils should be taught in each subject at each key stage, and provide the basis for planning schemes of work. In each subject, in each key stage, the PoS sets out the following:

Attainment Targets

An attainment target sets out the knowledge, skills and understanding which pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each Key Stage. The attainment targets consist of level descriptors of increasing difficulty, plus an additional description for exceptional performance.
Each level description describes the types and range of performance that pupils working at that level should characteristically demonstrate. The descriptions provide the basis for making judgements about pupils’ performance at the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. At Key Stage 4, national qualifications are the main way of assessing attainment in NC subjects. To find out information about your own specialist subject and the requirements of the National Curriculum in this area, please visit the National Curriculum website at

Tests and Examinations

At the end of Key Stages 1 – 3 English, Maths and Science (Science from KS2) are tested formally by National Tests called SATs (Standard Attainment Tests).  All the other subjects are teacher-assessed. 

Between 16 and 18, students can take Advanced Subsidiary (AS-Level) or Advanced Level (A-Level) exams – academic style courses in a wide range of subjects often leading to university entrance, or General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ) which are more technical or practical vocational qualifications in subjects such as Leisure and Tourism or Business Studies. 


The government is committed to promoting inclusion in all schools.  Where parents want a mainstream setting for their child with special educational needs, the policy is to try and provide it.  Equally, where specialist provision is sought, it is important and right that parents’ wishes are respected.  The key objective is to safeguard the interests of all children and to ensure they achieve their full potential.

Numeracy and Literacy

The government has put in place two strategies designed to raise standards in all primary schools in England.  Frameworks for teaching literacy and numeracy have been published to support these strategies.  Two hours per day have been dedicated to working on these areas and it is compulsory. 

Workforce Strategy

The government has introduced a workforce strategy for employed teachers to ensure they have a good work life balance.  This strategy includes a 38 hour limit per year for covering other staff and 10% of timetabled teaching time to be set aside for planning, preparation and assessment of lessons (PPA time).

Curriculum Subject Specific Websites - This is a huge site covering anything and everything to do with education, from ministerial circulars to day-to-day lesson plans. A very useful starting point, especially for curriculum content. - This site offers a range of free online resources, including a guide to 11,000 of the best educational sites. Mindblowing! - Definitely worth a visit! Loads of really great resources for ALL subject areas.

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