Back to Basics: National Curriculum

The National Curriculum is taught to all children studying in a state or “maintained” school. This includes grammar schools but not private schools. They are likely to teach very similarly and the qualifications children take in their later school years are the same. However, they are free to teach their pupils any range of subjects.

This blog aims to give you the tools you need to understand the contents of the National Curriculum so that you can better support your child with their learning at home and in school.


The National Curriculum has a list of compulsory subjects that all students must be taught. In Key Stages 1 and 2 (children up to the age of 11) these are:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and Technology
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • History
  • Geography
  • Art and Design
  • Languages (KS2 only)
  • Music
  • Physical Education

Everyone who has attended secondary school will know that you’ll know what you were studying when you went to a lesson. However, if you cast your mind back to primary school, things weren’t always as clear. Each school and teacher may have different methods for making sure the subjects are covered, they may call the different things and the curriculum itself is open to interpretation.

Maths and English

The broad curriculum is very important. However, there are a couple of subjects which hold a greater weight within the National Curriculum.

Maths is taught every day at primary schools. During the last review (see further down), this recommendation was added to the National Curriculum. Your child might not know it as maths yet because often the individual components of the study of mathematics is given its own title.

English as a subject is proabably better described as literacy. It’s much more than reading and writing! The literacy framework has sections on speaking and listening. These important communication skills help children with their phonics and handwriting.

Performance Monitoring

A controversial topic, particularly when younger children are involved, monitoring children’s performance is used to benchmark where they are compared to where they are expected to be by their age. Some parents argue that children should be allowed to build up their knowledge gradually without the pressure and scrutiny that comes with having their work “graded”. Performance monitoring has its advantages though. Firstly, it allows teachers to pick up children who are really struggling, perhaps due to a learning difficulty or other issues. It also means that gifted and talented students can be given additional work to keep them engaged.

Monitoring takes place all the time, not just during the SATs (or the 11 plus) which is when many parents will find out exactly where their children are educationally. These assessemtns are informal, however it allows teachers to revise learning plans for pupils to make sure it is still suitable for them.

There are three performance levels, sometimes called descriptors:

  • Working towards age expectations
  • Working at age expectations
  • Working above age expectations

While the levels are the same, schools sometimes use different terminology. Should you have any queries you can always ask the teacher or raise it at parents’ evening.

National Curriculum Review

D&T National Curriculum for England 2014 - D&T Association

The National Curriculum was reviewed between 2011 and 2014 by a panel of experts and the Department for Education. Having a say in what should be included were teachers, academics and business representatives. The result was the new national curriculum. This brought about some of the new termionolgy above, as well as different subjects and ways of learning. To teachers, the most important thing is that if you don’t understand anything about the National Curriculum, you ask. They want you to help with the child’s education at home as this will help your child fulfil their academic potential.

Back to Basics

This blog series is designed to help parents understand some of the terms which they might read regularly. We hope that by providing these blogs, they will help parents better understand the education their child is receiving. Many browsers provide an opportunity to translate text and we hope that in writing this information in plain details, this will help parents for whom English is an additional language.

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