Understanding the UK Curriculum


There are four key stages of the UK curriculum, which outline the main topics of study and attainment targets across all subjects. Local-authority-maintained schools are obliged to teach these main programmes so that all students across the UK learn the same things. At the end of each key stage, pupils are formally assessed on their performance. Independent schools and academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum as strictly as state schools. A college in London  summarise these key stages below…

Key Stage 1 & 2

Students between the ages of 5 and 7 study Key Stage 1, when they are in years 1 and 2. At the end of year 1, they are given a phonics screening check and at the end of year 2 they must complete national tests in English, maths, and science to assess their progress.

Before entering this key stage, learning is more generalised, but in Key Stage 1 it is more subject specific, covering English, maths, science, history, geography, IT, languages, art, music, PE, languages and design and technology. Schools must also provide religious education, but parents can request that their children are take out of these lessons if preferred. Many schools also explore personal, social, health and citizenship education (PSHCE).

Key Stage 2 is taught to students between the ages of 7 to 11, years 3 to 6. The subjects remain the same, and tests are taken again at the end of year 6, before most students move onto secondary school.

Key Stage 3 & 4

Years 7 to 9 are focussed on Key Stage 3 where the curriculum remains varied, and in Years 10 and 11 they complete their GCSEs (Key Stage 4), where students are given the option to choose whether or not they study certain subjects. The core subjects, English, maths, and Science, remain compulsory, as do the foundation subjects, computing, PE and citizenship. Aside from that, the subjects are more flexible. Students usually have to choose one from each of the following categories:

  • Humanities: history, geography, RE
  • Modern Foreign Languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese
  • Design & Technology: DT, graphics, cooking
  • Arts: art & design, drama, music

From year 7 onwards, students must also be taught sex education, where they learn about reproduction, sexual health, and sexuality. Schools are obliged to provide a written policy on sex education, which parents can access should they wish to find out more.

Key Stage 5

Finally, Key Stage 5 is explored between the ages of 16-18. Most students choose to study A Levels at this stage, which will help them gain necessary qualifications to apply to university, but they can opt to do an apprenticeship if that is better suited to their skills and interests.

Like GCSEs, A Levels are taught over a two-year period and students are allowed to choose which subjects they’d like to study. During the first year, they typically study four subjects and then drop one for the second year, when they only study three. As a result, they are left with one AS level qualification and three full A Levels. The reason they study so few subjects at this stage is because it’s a far more in-depth and challenging programme than what they’re used to, so they will need plenty of support and guidance.

The more you understand about what your child is being taught in school, the easier it will be for you to help them succeed. You will be able to adapt your leisure activities to complement the curriculum and find suitable learning tools to help them with their homework. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s teachers for a framework of the curriculum to give you more of an idea of what they are learning in class.

Trey Rory
the authorTrey Rory