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.
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.
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!
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:
|3 to 4||Preschool||Early years||None|
|4 to 5||Reception||Early years||Teacher assessments (there’s also an optional assessment at the start of the year)|
|5 to 6||Year 1||KS1||Phonics screening check|
|6 to 7||Year 2||KS1||National tests and teacher assessments in English, maths and science|
|7 to 8||Year 3||KS2||None|
|8 to 9||Year 4||KS2||None|
|9 to 10||Year 5||KS2||None|
|10 to 11||Year 6||KS2||National tests and teacher assessments in English and maths, and teacher assessments in science|
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.
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.
In May 2016, new National Tests were introduced for Year 2 and Year 6 pupils.
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:
Key stage 2
Test frameworks for the new key stage 2 national curriculum tests:
In preparation for tests and learning for National Curriculum subjects and topics, encourage your child to try Education Quizzes!