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Understanding the National Curriculum

In the countries of the UK teaching in schools follows set curricula. These guide teachers to ensure that basic components of maths, English and reading are taught, together with sciences and history. The content of the curriculum will vary depending on where in the UK your children go to school.

What is the National Curriculum?


English National Curriculum
Prior to 1988, when the National Curriculum was first introduced, schools had the freedom to decide what would be taught, guided mainly by the requirements of examinations and employers. Religious education (RE) was the only compulsory subject in schools.

The National Curriculum was designed to fulfil four main purposes:  
  1. to ensure that every child, irrespective of social background, culture, race, gender, differences in ability and disabilities received the same education entitlement
  2. to set down standards against which every child’s progress could be measured, 
  3. to ensure continuity between one school and the next
  4. to establish an education system that could be clearly understood by all
Every state school is now required by law to deliver the National Curriculum, but whilst advice and guidance in the form of strategies, frameworks, programmes of study and schemes of work is provided, schools remain free to plan and organise teaching and learning in the way that best meets the needs of their pupils.

How does the National Curriculum work?

The National Curriculum sets out:
  • What subjects will be taught at each Key Stage in the education system
  • The knowledge, skills and understanding required in each subject
  • The levels of attainment in each subject – these can be used to measure children’s progress and plan the next steps in their learning
  • How schools will assess children’s progress and report to central government and to parents

What are Key Stages?

The term ‘Key Stages’ refers to the different stages of education. 

Schools commonly identify four ‘Key Stages’ as well as an ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ (children before they reach the compulsory school age).

Current Used to be
Early Years Foundation Stage Nursery and Reception Nursery school and reception class in Infant school
Key Stage 1 Year one and two Infants
Key Stage 2 Years three to six Juniors
Key Stage 3 Years seven to nine Secondary school (first 3 years)
Key Stage 4 Years ten and eleven Secondary school (to GCSE)
 

Scottish National Curriculum
The Curriculum for Excellence sets out ‘Guidance on how and what children and young people learn from the early years to the end of S3 is presented through experiences and outcomes’ and ‘includes all of the experiences which are planned for children and young people’.

Who does the Curriculum for Excellence apply to?

‘Curriculum for Excellence aims to achieve a transformation in education in Scotland by providing a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum from 3 to 18.’

What will be taught?

The curriculum includes all of the experiences which are planned for children and young people. A full set of experiences and outcomes are set out outlining what should be covered in each subject area.

What are the ‘expected’ levels of achievement?

The experiences and outcomes under Curriculum for Excellence are written at five levels, with progression to qualifications described under the senior phase.
 
Level To be achieved by:
Early The end of pre-school years and P1 (or later for some).
First The end of P4 (but earlier or later for some).
Second The end of P7 (but earlier or later for some).
Third and Fourth S1 to S3, but earlier for some. The fourth level broadly equates to Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework level 4.
The fourth level experiences and outcomes are intended to provide possibilities for choice and young people's programmes will not include all of the fourth level outcomes.
Senior phase S4 to S6, and college or other means of study.
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