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National Curriculum of England

The National Curriculum of England

There are three core subjects: Science, English and Maths. Other subjects are known as foundation subjects.

Note about physical education

The Government believes that two hours of physical activity a week, including the National Curriculum for physical education and extra-curricular activities, should be an aspiration for all schools. This applies throughout all key stages

There are four compulsory key stages (KS):

KS1 - (Year 1-2/ KG2-Grade 1) - Age 5-7
KS2 - (Year 3-6 / Grade 2-5) - Age 7-11
KS3 - (Year 7-9 / Grade 6-8) - Age 11-14
KS4 - (Year 10-11 / Grade 9-10) - Age 14-16

Ages are as per English Government guidelines.

The four key stages are defined precisely in section 355(1) a–d of the Education Act 1996.

About Key Stages 1 and 2

The structure of the National Curriculum

For each subject and for each key stage, programmes of study (PoS) set out what students should be taught, and attainment targets set out the expected standards of students’ performance. It is for schools to choose how they organise their school curriculum to include the programmes of study.

Programmes of study

The programmes of study sets out what students should be taught in each subject at each key stage, and provide the basis for planning schemes of work.

Attainment targets and level descriptions

An attainment target sets out the ‘knowledge, skills and understanding which students of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage. Except in the case of citizenship, attainment targets consist of eight level descriptions of increasing difficulty, plus a description for exceptional performance above level 8. Each level description describes the types and range of performance that students working at that level should characteristically demonstrate. The level descriptions provide the basis for making judgements about students’ performance at the end of key stages 1, 2 and 3. At key stage 4, national qualifications are the main means of assessing attainment in National Curriculum subjects.

A range of levels can be expected at any key stage, but the expected attainment for the majority of pupils is:

Key stage 1 - Year 1 to Year 2 at age 7. Majority Level 2b
Key stage 2 - Year 3 to Year 6 at age 11. Majority Level 4b
Key stage 3 - Year 7 to Year 9 at age 14. Majority Level 5b/6c


Teachers’ planning for schemes of work should start from the programmes of study and the needs and abilities of their students. Level descriptions can help to determine the degree of challenge and progression for work across each year of a key stage.


Teachers are required to report annually to parents on students’ progress. Although not designed to be used at the end of each year across the key stage, the level descriptions can be used as a basis to describe students’ progress.

The programmes of study (PoS)

The National Curriculum programmes of study have been given a common structure and a common design.

In each subject, at each key stage, the main column contains the programme of study, which sets out two sorts of requirements:

  • Knowledge, skills and understanding – what has to be taught in the subject during the key stage
  • Breadth of study – the contexts, activities, areas of study and range of experiences through which the Knowledge, skills and understanding should be taught.

Health and safety

1 This statement applies to science, design and technology, information and communication technology, art and design, and physical education.

2 When working with tools, equipment and materials, in practical activities and in different environments, including those that are unfamiliar, students should be taught:

  • a) about hazards, risks and risk control
  • b) to recognise hazards, assess consequent risks and take steps
  • c) to control the risks to themselves and others
  • d) to use information to assess the immediate and cumulative risks
  • e) to manage their environment to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others
  • f) to explain the steps they take to control risks

Skills across the National Curriculum

At all key stages, students learn, practise, combine, develop and refine a wide range of skills in their work across the National Curriculum. Some of these skills are subject specific (painting in art and design), while some are common to several subjects (enquiry skills in science, history and geography).

Some skills are universal, for example the skills of communication, improving own learning and performance, and creative thinking. These skills are also embedded in the subjects of the National Curriculum and are essential to effective learning.

Opportunities for teaching and learning all these skills across the key stages can be identified when planning. Students can be encouraged to reflect on what and on how they learn, and how these skills can be applied to different subjects, different problems and real-life situations.

Key skills

Six skill areas are described as key skills because they help students to improve their learning and performance in education, work and life. These key skills are embedded in the National Curriculum:

National Curriculum of England

Source: The National Curriculum Handbook, 1999

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