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National Curriculum – Primary

Most primary schools have to teach specific subject areas in lessons, chosen by the government. This is called the National Curriculum. There is also a curriculum for secondary schools, which we look at in another article.

For now, let’s find out more about your child’s primary curriculum and when and how s/he is tested and assessed.

What is the National Curriculum?

The National Curriculum was first introduced in 1988 to all state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The National Curriculum gives schools a list of subjects and topics they should teach for different age groups. The government also makes schools measure the standards their pupils achieve, using national tests and teachers’ assessment.

A national curriculum means that all children (of the same age) in the UK are learning the same things, no matter which school they go to. This keeps education consistent across the country. It also makes it easier to keep track of children’s progress and achievement levels if they are all following the same standards.

This is useful if your child moves schools. Covering the same topics and learning the same things in every school, a child should be able to move without it affecting their progress, or leaving gaps in their education.

Do all Schools follow the National Curriculum?

The National Curriculum is not compulsory for all schools – only state primaries and secondaries. Schools that don’t have to follow the curriculum are academies, free schools and private schools. And home-schoolers do not have to conform to it, either.

Currently (in 2016) there are 2,440 academies, out of a total of 16,766 primary schools. The present government wants all schools to convert to academies by 2020.

Whether they have to or not, many schools do follow the National Curriculum to provide a learning framework and allow them to compare test results with other schools. But don’t worry if your school doesn’t!

Key Stages

Year groups are separated into ‘Key Stages’ and the National Curriculum outlines what each level should be taught at that stage.

Pupils take various tests and teachers make assessments at the end of each Key Stage to see how they are performing.

The relevant years/assessment expectations (at April 2016) are:

Age YearKey StageAssessment
3 to 4PreschoolEarly yearsNone
4 to 5ReceptionEarly years Teacher assessments (there’s also an optional assessment at the start of the year)
5 to 6Year 1KS1 Phonics screening check
6 to 7Year 2KS1 National tests and teacher assessments in English, maths and science
7 to 8Year 3KS2None
8 to 9 Year 4KS2None
9 to 10 Year 5KS2None
10 to 11 Year 6KS2 National tests and teacher assessments in English and maths, and teacher assessments in science

Subjects taught in Primary Schools

The National Curriculum requires children to be taught the following subjects: English, maths, science, history, geography, art & design, music, design & technology, physical education (including swimming) and computing.

Religious education should be taught in all schools – covering a range of religions, but parents have the option to exclude their children from these lessons, if they do not wish their child to be taught about religious beliefs different to their own.

Optionally, modern foreign languages (e.g. French) are often taught in Key Stage 1, and ancient (e.g. Latin) and modern foreign languages in Key Stage 2.

Other popular subjects that are frequently taught in schools at both Key Stages are PSHE (which stands for ‘personal, social and health education’) and citizenship.

PSHE teaches children about staying safe, how to look after themselves, and healthy lifestyles. The subject is intended to teach children positive social skills and how to understand other people’s feelings. In Key Stage 2 children will be introduced to puberty, sex, relationships and emotional health.

Citizenship is compulsory in secondary education, but is optional at primary level. It is similar to PSHE, but introduces pupils to debating, critical thinking, politics and law.

How are children tested?

The National Curriculum and its assessment requirements regularly change (most recently, May 2016).

Children are tested nationally at the end of each Key Stage, either by class tests or teacher assessments to monitor their educational progress against the national average.

National Curriculum tests are also known as SATs (standard attainment tests).

At early years foundation stage children are assessed at the end of reception class by the teacher. Don’t worry! Children do not have to take any formal tests and progress will be recorded purely on their performance in lessons, according to the teacher’s observations.

Year 1 pupils have their phonics skills checked at the end of the year.

At the end of Year 2 (when KS1 finishes) and Year 6 (end of KS2) all children are required to take national tests or be assessed by teachers in English, maths and science. Schools try to make these as comfortable as possible, like an ordinary class test, rather than a scary exam.

Introduction of 2016 New National Tests

In May 2016, new National Tests were introduced for Year 2 and Year 6 pupils.

These tests are different in the way in which results are recorded and compared. Pupils will receive a scaled score.

Test scores will be published online (from July 2016). Parents will be able to compare their children’s scores with the national average.

Key stage 1

At the end of KS1, Year 2 pupils will be required to complete tests in:

  1. Key stage 1: English grammar, punctuation and spelling test framework
  2. Key stage 1: English reading test framework
  3. Key stage 1: mathematics test framework

Key stage 2

Test frameworks for the new key stage 2 national curriculum tests:

  1. Key stage 2: English grammar, punctuation and spelling test framework
  2. Key stage 2: English reading test framework
  3. Key stage 2: mathematics test framework
  4. Key stage 2: science sampling test framework

And finally…

In preparation for tests and learning for National Curriculum subjects and topics, encourage your child to try Education Quizzes!

  1. What is the purpose of the National Curriculum?
    The National Curriculum sets out which subjects should be taught and the standards required for each age group. This means that children in state schools all over the country are taught the same things - very useful if they have to change schools!
  2. In what year was the National Curriculum introduced?
    It was a requirement of the Education Reform Act that all schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (except independent schools, academies and free schools) should follow the National Curriculum. The majority of schools in Scotland are run by their local councils who are responsible for which subjects are taught
  3. When they first start school children in England will be taught the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage). Which of the following subjects is NOT included in EYFS?
    The areas of learning covered by EYFS are art, communication, literacy, maths, physical development, PSE and understanding the world. This final topic covers very basic geography, history, science and the environment
  4. Certain schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Which of the following types of school DO have to?
    Faith schools do have to follow the National Curriculum, though they can choose what they teach in religious studies. Anybody can apply to attend a faith school but they do have certain admissions criteria. Some faith schools are academes and these, like their secular counterparts, do not have to teach the national curriculum
  5. In order to asses their ability, primary school children must take tests at the end of two years. Which years?
    These come at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Each child is given a score of between 85 and 115 with a score of 100 being the expected standard on each test
  6. There are twelve subjects in the National Curriculum for primary schools. Which of the following is NOT on the list?
    Ancient and modern foreign languages are compulsory in KS2. PE and RE are taught in KS1 and KS2 (though parents have the option to remove their child from some RE lessons). PSHE is often taught in primary schools but it is not a requirement
  7. In Year 1, children will have a 'Phonics Screening Check'. What exactly is phonics?
    The phonics screening check contains twenty real and twenty made-up words. It tests whether or not children know what sounds single letters and digraphs make when read. You can look at an example of KS1 phonics here
  8. Year 2 and Year 6 pupils taking National Tests receive a 'scaled' score, based on their results, rather than an 'actual' score. Why is this?
    The questions in every test must be different to the previous year so their difficulty might vary a little. To compensate for this, each student's actual score is compared against a table which translates it into a scaled score
  9. One of the tests Year 2 pupils have to take is in maths. Which of the following is NOT included in the KS1 maths test?
    Numbers, including addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, place value and fractions. make up 80-90% of the test. The remainder consists of measurement, statistics and geometry (the names and properties of shapes)
  10. At the end of Year 2, KS1 children are tested on English and maths, as are KS2 students at the end of Year 6. Which other subject are KS2 children tested on?
    The test contains 66 questions - 22 each on biology, chemistry and physics - and takes 75 minutes to complete

Author: Linda Innes

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