House of Commons Library

The school curriculum in England

Published Thursday, December 19, 2019

This note provides an overview of the curriculum in state-funded schools in England. It outlines what schools have to teach and at what ages. It also provides historical information on the development and revision of the national curriculum since its inception.

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Summary

What is the national curriculum in England?

Maintained schools in England must teach the national curriculum to pupils aged approximately 5 to 16 years old. The national curriculum is divided into four key stages. It includes different subjects at different stages, but maths, sciences, English, physical education and computing are included at all stages.

Academies and free schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum. They must, however, offer a broad and balanced curriculum that covers English, maths, sciences and RE. Primary academies and free schools must also take part in national curriculum assessments, commonly referred to as SATs.

Other curriculum subjects

In addition to the national curriculum, maintained schools in England must also offer:

  • At secondary level, a programme of sex and relationships education (SRE) for all registered pupils, providing the parents have not withdrawn their child from this. There are new statutory requirements coming into force for this subject in September 2020; these changes will also affect academies and independent schools.
  • Religious education (RE) for all registered pupils.

These elements, plus the national curriculum, comprise the statutory curriculum for maintained schools. Additionally, secondary schools must offer impartial careers advice to those in school years 9 to 13.

Recent changes and revisions to curriculum subjects

From 2020, there will be a requirement to provide relationships education at all primary schools in England, and revised relationships and sex education (RSE) at secondary schools. Schools were able to voluntarily begin teaching the revised RSE curriculum from September 2019. Also from September 2020, state-funded primary and secondary schools will be subject to a new requirement to provide health education.

 

Commons Briefing papers SN06798

Author: Nerys Roberts

Topic: Schools

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