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What is the British Curriculum?

The British curriculum is one of the most common curricula taught worldwide, and it is currently used in 45% of all international schools that teach the English language. If you’re considering a British education for your child, it’s important for both student and parent to understand what the British Curriculum is and what it entails.

The English National Curriculum begins at Early Years Foundation Stage for children aged three to five, progressing to the highly respected GCSE or IGCSE qualifications and A-Levels for older students. This article discusses what the British Curriculum is about and covers each of these key stages in a child’s learning in more detail. 

The British Curriculum Pre-Kindergarten (3 to 5 years old)

Students in our British curriculum schools, aged between three and five years old, experience the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. This is an important stage as it helps children prepare for school as well as their future learning and successes. 

We support our Early Years students’ learning and development needs through a stimulating and fun programme delivered in a secure environment, both indoors and outdoors. Our schools plan learning activities based on seven key curriculum areas, allowing young students to acquire knowledge and skills through engaging experiences. The seven areas are: 

  • Communication and language 
  • Physical development
  • Personal, social and emotional development 
  • Literacy 
  • Mathematics
  • Understanding the world 
  • Expressive arts and design

Our learning activities always involve playing and exploring, being active and creative, and developing critical thinking. Activities are adapted to suit each student’s unique needs and interests, providing every child with a strong foundation for their education. 

The British Curriculum Kindergarten to 10th Grade (5 to 16-year-olds) 

After Early Years education, the British Curriculum is split into four different stages of learning, each with its own set of assessments. In this section, we’ll cover kindergarten to 10th grade, or key stage 1 to 3, in more detail.  

Key Stage 1 and 2

Key stages 1 and 2 cover the British National Curriculum at primary school. Key stage 1 covers years 1 and 2 (ages 5 to 7), and key stage 2 covers years 3 to 6 (ages 7 to 11). Compulsory national curriculum subjects include: 

  • English 
  • Maths
  • Science 
  • Design and technology  
  • History 
  • Geography  
  • Art and design 
  • Music 
  • Physical education 
  • Computing 
  • Ancient and modern foreign languages 

Schools also often teach: 

  • Personal, social and health education (PSHE) 
  • Citizenship 
  • Modern foreign languages 

The education provided in key stages 1 and 2 builds towards multiple tests and assessments. In year 1 (ages 5 to 6), students take a phonic screening check which involves children reading 40 words out loud to a teacher. There is also a test in key stage 1 for students ages 6 to 7, the assessment tests English reading, English grammar, punctuation and spelling, as well as maths. In key stage 2, there is another test in year 6 for children ages 10-11, these are called SATs and they further test skills in English reading, English grammar, punctuation and spelling, along with maths. This is the final assessment for primary school students studying the British Curriculum.  

Key Stage 3

Key stage 3 begins in secondary school, where students continue to develop their skills and knowledge in a stimulating and challenging learning environment. Building upon their experience from key stage 1 and 2, students will find themselves studying a wide variety of subjects to prepare for the GCSE and IGCSE exams taken at age 16: 

  • Art and Design 
  • Citizenship 
  • Design and Technology  
  • English (including Drama)   
  • Geography 
  • History 
  • Information and Communication Technology  
  • Mathematics 
  • Modern Foreign Languages 
  • Music 
  • Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education
  • Physical Education
  • Science covering Physics, Chemistry and Biology 

We cover the assessments in key stage 3 in more detail in ‘the British Curriculum Grades and Exams’ section.  

The British Curriculum Grades 11 to 12 (16 to 18-year-olds) 

The British Curriculum is characterised by end-of-school assessments, most importantly GCSEs and A-Levels, but younger students also study for assessments such as SATs. 

At ages 4 to 5, teachers begin carrying out assessments, and there is also an optional assessment at the start of the year. Ages 5 to 6 take a phonic screening check, then ages 6 to 7 sit their SATs. SATs are standardised assessment tests administered in primary schools to check their educational progress. They’re used as a marker by the British Government and parents to assess the quality of education at a school.  

At the end of secondary school, children ages 14 to 15 begin taking their GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). GCSEs are a set of exams taken in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and other British Territories that test students aged 15-16 on their chosen subjects, following two years of study. GCSEs have a 9-1 grading system, with 9 being the equivalent of an A* in the old system and 4 being the equivalent of a C or a pass.  

Students who achieve at least five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 can proceed to study A Levels (Advanced Levels), which are subject-based qualifications like GCSEs, but more focused on specific fields chosen by the pupils, normally based on what they would like to study in higher education or the field they would like to pursue in their future careers. A Levels are the school-leaving qualification that leads to university, further study, work experience or work. A-Level students normally study three or four subjects over two years.  

We have covered all the important details about the British Curriculum. If you are considering a British international school or would like more information about the premium education we provide at Nord Anglia Education, you should visit our schools page.  

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