The National Curriculum

The School Curriculum in England

Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based and which:

  • promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
  • prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

The school curriculum comprises all learning and other experiences that each school plans for its pupils. The National Curriculum forms one part of the school curriculum. Maintained schools in England are legally required to follows the statutory National Curriculum which sets out in Programmes of Study, on the basis of key stages, subject content for those subjects that should be taught to all pupils.  

All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice. Schools are also free to include other subjects or topics of their choice in planning and designing their own programme of education. The National Curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.

The National Curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications. The National Curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum. Pupils of compulsory school age in community schools must follow the National Curriculum.  

It is organised on the basis of four key stages and twelve subjects, classified in legal terms as ‘core’ and ‘other foundation’ subjects. The Secretary of State for Education is required to publish Programmes of Study for each National Curriculum subject, setting out the ‘matters, skills and processes’ to be taught at each key stage. Schools are free to choose how they organise their school day, as long as the content of the National Curriculum Programmes of Study is taught to all pupils.