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The National Curriculum in England and Wales

12/03/2008 Joanna

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 seven (school year group 1, 2)
  • key stage 2: seven to eleven  (school year groups 3,4,5,6)
  • key stage 3: eleven to fourteen (school year groups 7,8,9)
  • key stage 4: fourteen to sixteen (school year groups 10,11)

Key stages one and two are the primary phase, and key stages three and four constitute the secondary phase. There are three 'core' subjects, which are:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • (in Wales Welsh is a core subject in Welsh speaking schools).

There are seven 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
  • in Wales (Welsh is a foundation subject in non-Welsh speaking schools).

All children in key stages one to three must study the first nine of these subjects. In key stage three, they must also study a modern foreign language.

Pupils aged fourteen to sixteen 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

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:

Knowledge, Skills and Understanding – what has to be taught

Breadth of Study – contexts, activities, areas of study and range of experiences through which the knowledge, skills and understanding should be taught.

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 KS4, 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


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