What is the Primary School Curriculum?

Most pupils in primary schools are taught KS1 and KS2, which are parts of the National Curriculum. The guidelines for these key stages set out which subjects are taught and what standards are expected. Only state schools have to do this.

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Have you ever wondered how primary schools decide what to teach? Do they randomly pick subjects and topics? The truth is more organized than that. Most primary schools in the UK follow the National Curriculum, which is a set of guidelines established by the government to determine what children should learn.

Understanding the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum consists of specific subjects and topics designed for different age groups. It is not static and changes over time with new additions and removals. The current National Curriculum was introduced in 2014 with minor adjustments in the following year.

The National Curriculum applies to all children attending local authority-maintained schools, ensuring consistency in learning between the ages of 5 and 16.

Originally introduced in 1988 for all state schools in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the National Curriculum now only applies to English schools, as education has become a devolved matter.


Importance of the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum plays a crucial role in standardizing education across the country. It guarantees that children of the same age receive the same education, which is beneficial for families relocating between towns. In addition to subject matter and topics, it also outlines testing methods and performance standards, making it easier to compare schools.

Who Follows the National Curriculum?

While the National Curriculum is mandatory in local authority-maintained schools, not all schools adhere to it. Independent (private) schools, free schools, and academies have the freedom to choose their own curricula. Parents who home-educate their children can also opt not to follow the National Curriculum, though it provides a useful framework.

The majority of primary schools are run by local authorities, and most of them follow the National Curriculum. Approximately 15% of primary schools in England are academies or free schools, and although it's not obligatory, most of these institutions still teach the National Curriculum.

Most primary school students study Key Stages 1 and 2, which are part of the National Curriculum.

Understanding Key Stages

The National Curriculum is divided into four key stages (KS1 to KS4). KS3 and KS4 are taught in secondary schools. In primary schools, KS1 is taught to pupils in Years 1 and 2, while KS2 is for children in Years 3, 4, 5, and 6. At the end of each key stage, pupils are tested and assessed to evaluate their progress and achievement.

Subjects Taught in Primary Schools

The National Curriculum specifies the subjects primary school children should study. There are ten mandatory subjects for both KS1 and KS2:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • History
  • Geography
  • Art and design
  • Music
  • Design and technology
  • Physical education (including swimming)
  • Computing (formerly known as information and communication technology or ICT)

Religious education is also part of the National Curriculum, covering various religions. However, parents can choose to exclude their children from these lessons if they have religious objections.

In KS2, primary schools are required to teach ancient and modern foreign languages, with the choice of language determined by the school. While languages are sometimes taught in KS1, it is not mandatory.

Personal, social, and health education (PSHE) is optional in both KS1 and KS2, focusing on safety, well-being, and positive social skills. Topics like puberty, relationships, and emotional health are typically added to PSHE in KS2.

Citizenship is another optional subject at the primary level, introducing pupils to debating, critical thinking, politics, and law. While most primary schools do not offer citizenship, some do.


Assessment of Primary School Children

Children's abilities are formally assessed at the end of each key stage, with their performance compared to government-set expectations.

KS1 Tests

Year 1 students have their phonics skills assessed by reading 40 words to their teacher at the end of the year. At the end of Year 2, all students are required to take national tests in English grammar, punctuation and spelling, English reading, and mathematics. Science is also assessed through teacher evaluations.

KS2 Tests

At the end of Year 6, students must take national tests in English grammar, punctuation and spelling, English reading, mathematics, and science. Test scores are converted into numbers between 85 and 115, with a score of 100 indicating the expected standard.

Most primary school children take tests at the end of KS1 and KS2, in addition to SATs.

Understanding SATs

National Curriculum tests, commonly known as SATs (standard attainment tests), are designed to facilitate school comparisons. While SATs have faced criticism for causing stress and narrowing the curriculum, they remain essential for assessing school performance and ranking.

Additionally, primary school students may also need to take the Eleven-Plus exam, which is not part of the National Curriculum. The Eleven-Plus aims to identify the brightest pupils and is an intelligence test rather than an assessment of academic ability.

The National Curriculum encompasses various aspects of primary education, including subjects, topics, assessments, and standards. This guide equips you with essential information to navigate the challenges of primary school education.

The Eleven-Plus Exam

While the Eleven-Plus is not a part of the National Curriculum, it is still required by some primary school children. This exam, once mandatory for all UK children except in Scotland, determines which secondary school they will attend. A few education authorities, such as Buckinghamshire, Essex, Kent, Lincolnshire, and North Yorkshire, continue to use the Eleven-Plus, while some other boroughs may also employ it. The exam assesses English, maths, verbal reasoning (VR), and non-verbal reasoning (NVR).

Selective schools are in high demand, and the Eleven-Plus pass rate can be quite high. While some grammar schools accept only the top 3% of applicants, others admit the top 30%.

Learn More About the National Curriculum

For additional information about the National Curriculum, key stages, and other educational aspects, explore our Knowledge Bank. We have a dedicated National Curriculum Guidelines For Primary Schools page and numerous articles addressing parents' questions on schooling. You'll also find valuable tips and advice on various topics, including substance abuse prevention and the importance of physical activity. If you have questions, we have answers!


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