House of Commons Library

The school curriculum in England

Published Monday, April 16, 2018

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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What do schools in England have to teach?

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. Maintained schools are also required to offer other subjects, including religious education (RE) at all ages and sex and relationships education at secondary level.

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 must also take part in national curriculum assessments, commonly referred to as SATs.

The statutory school curriculum vs the national curriculum

In addition to the national curriculum, maintained schools in England also have to 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level, a programme of sex and relationships education (SRE) for all registered pupils, providing the parents have not withdrawn their child from such provision.
  • Religious education (RE) for all registered pupils, again providing they have not been withdrawn. Content will depend on the type of school, the locally agreed syllabus or, for some types of school, the policy adopted by the Governing Body.

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

Relationships and sex education

The 2015 Government passed legislation requiring relationships education to be offered by all state-funded primary schools in England, and revised relationships and sex education to be offered by all secondary schools. Subject to consultation, the intention is to begin first teaching from September 2019.

Changes to the national curriculum from September 2014

The national curriculum has been reviewed several times since its inception in 1988, and most recently during the 2010 Government’s term. The resulting reforms have been phased in from September 2014.

Key changes made since September 2014 include:

  • Major revisions to the subject content of all national curriculum subjects.
  • The addition of a modern language to the Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) national curriculum.
  • Significant changes to the way pupils are assessed.


Commons Briefing papers SN06798

Author: Nerys Roberts

Topic: Schools

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