School curriculum and assessment

The National Curriculum

The National Curriculum sets out the stages and core subjects your child will be taught throughout their school life. Children aged 5 to 16 in state or maintained schools must be taught according to the National Curriculum.

The National Curriculum is a statutory framework used by all government funded maintained schools to ensure that teaching and learning is balanced and consistent.

It sets out:

  • the subjects taught
  • the knowledge, skills and understanding required in each subject
  • standards or attainment targets in each subject that teachers can use to measure your child's progress and plan their future learning
  • how your child's progress is assessed, tested and reported

Within the framework of the National Curriculum, schools are free to plan and organise teaching and learning in the way that best meets the needs of their pupils. Many schools use the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCDA) Schemes of Work and other support documents to plan the curriculum. The National Strategies for Primary and Secondary Education, also set up by government, set out recommended teaching and learning frameworks to help schools' work in more detail.

Useful links to the website include:

The National Curriculum key stages

The National Curriculum is organised into blocks of years called 'key stages'.

There are 4 key stages as well as a Foundation Stage, which covers children below the minimum compulsory schooling age of 5.

For each key stage there are Programmes of Study, including subjects to be taught. Assessment combines nationally produced tests and teacher assessment from KS1 to KS3 as shown in the table below. Optional tests which are also nationally produced can be used for the years in between the end of the key stage. Teachers must assess and report pupils' progress to parents at least once a year, and at the end of the key stage a level must be reported for at least the core subjects of English, mathematics and science.

Revision of the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum for KS3 and KS4 was revised during 2007 and several changes were introduced in 2008. For KS1 and KS2, a major report was published in April 2009 as a result of a full review led by Sir Jim Rose. Following a national consultation based on the report's recommendations, the Primary School curriculum was to be revised and new plans laid before Parliament during 2010. However, the new Government from May 2010 decided to carry out a further review and has postponed changes. The website links, already given above, will provide up to date information on the progress of these developments.

National Curriculum terms explained

Programme of study

Programmes of study set out what pupils should be taught in each subject in key stages 1 to 3. In Key Stage 4, syllabuses are set out by examination boards and there are programmes of study for non-examination subjects that are part of the National Curriculum requirements. Teachers use these to plan and organise lessons. The Early Years Foundation Stage framework is to guide teachers work with children in Reception.

Attainment targets

Each National Curriculum subject has one or more attainment target. The targets identify the knowledge, skills and understanding which pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage. Attainment targets for each statutory subject include 8 level descriptions of increasing difficulty. These are used for teacher assessments and tests, particularly at the end of the key stage. The level descriptions also give parents and others a broad summary of what children at a particular level can understand, know and do.

National Curriculum levels

For Key Stages 1, 2, and 3, the National Curriculum is accompanied by a series of 8 levels. Your child's school will send you a report telling you what National Curriculum levels your child has reached in both tests and assessments when they finish the key stage. For the years in between, the school may give you levels or they may just report on progress within the subject.

Teacher assessments

Teachers check your child's progress in each subject as a normal part of their teaching by looking at their work, either written or by observation of how the pupils go about their tasks. They may also discuss work with pupils and use their answers as part of the assessment. Your child's teacher carries out a teacher assessment to decide which National Curriculum level best describes your child’s performance in each area of learning in that subject. At Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 3, teacher assessment gives the main reported level, although tests are used to help the teachers with their final assessment.

End of key stage assessments

These are the combination of National Curriculum tests and the teacher assessments which teachers must carry out for your child at the end of each key stage, at ages 7, 11 and 14. Tests show your child's performance in selected parts of a subject on a particular day. For example, at the end of Key Stage 2 pupils are tested in English (reading and writing) and maths. The tests give an independent measure of how pupils and schools are doing compared with national standards in these subjects, but also the teacher will assess how your child has been doing right across the subject, which may include areas difficult to test accurately. At Key Stage 1 the statutory tests are done as part of normal Year 2 classroom work any time from February onwards. For Key Stage 2 tests are given during the 2nd week in May. At Key Stage 3 the tests are no longer statutory but teachers may use them to help decide on the level for the end of the key stage in English, maths or science. At the end of Key Stage 4 pupils take a range of GCSE subjects.

Optional tests

These are provided by the Qualification and Curriculum Agency (QCDA) in English and mathematics for Years 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8. They are designed to help teachers with their end of year assessments for each pupil. Optional tests can be used alongside teacher assessment to give a view of pupils' level at the end of the year. Tests originally developed for science at Key Stage 2 and for English, maths and science at Key Stage 3, are now used optionally in Years 6 and 9 alongside teacher assessment.

Progress in the National Curriculum

In recent years it has become possible to make judgements about pupils' progress, particularly between the end of Key Stage 1 (7 year olds) and Key Stage 2 (11 year olds). The expectation based on averages nationally is that pupils will make approximately 2 levels of progress during Key Stage 2, estimated from the level they achieved at the end of Key Stage 1.

Page last updated: 02 May 2019
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