Statutory Requirements

The National Curriculum applies to pupils of compulsory school age in community and foundation schools, including community special schools and foundation special schools, and voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools. It is organised on the basis of four key stages.

Key stage 1: Ages 5-7 (Years 1-2)

Key stage 2: Ages 7-11 (Years 3-6)

Key stage 3: Ages 11-14 (Years 7-9)

Key stage 4: Ages 14-16 (Years 10-11).

At key stages 1 and 2 the statutory subjects that all pupils must study are art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, information and communication technology, mathematics, music, physical education and science. Religious education must also be provided at key stages 1 and 2.


The Structure of the National Curriculum

For each subject and for each key stage, programmes of study set out what pupils should be taught, and attainment targets set out the expected standards of pupils’ performance. It is for schools to choose how they organise their school curriculum to include the programmes of study.

Programmes of study

The programmes of study (as defined by the Education Act 1996, section 353b) set out what pupils should be taught in each subject at each key stage, and provide the basis for planning schemes of work. When planning, schools should also consider the four general teaching requirements (use of language, use of ICT and health and safety and inclusion) that apply across the programmes of study.

Attainment targets and level descriptions

An attainment target sets out the ‘knowledge, skills and understanding which pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage’ (Education Act, 1996, section 353a). Attainment targets consist of eight level descriptions of increasing difficulty, plus a description for exceptional performance above level 8. Each level description describes the types and range of performance that pupils working at that level should characteristically demonstrate.

The level descriptions provide the basis for making judgements about pupils’ performance at the end of key stages 1, 2 and 3. At key stage 4, national qualifications are the main means of assessing attainment in National Curriculum subjects.

The majority of pupils are expected to work at:

  • levels 1-3 in key stage 1 and attain level 2 at the end of the key stage
  • levels 2-5 in key stage 2 and attain level 4 at the end of the key stage
  • levels 3-7 in key stage 3 and attain level 5/6 at the end of the key stage.



Teachers’ planning for schemes of work should start from the programmes of study and the needs and abilities of their pupils. Level descriptions can help to determine the degree of challenge and progression for work across each year of a key stage.


Teachers are required to report annually to parents on pupils’ progress. Although not designed to be used at the end of each year across the key stage, the level descriptions can be used as a basis to describe pupils’ progress.


Other requirements

Religious education

Under the Education Act 1996 schools must provide religious education for all registered pupils, although parents can choose to withdraw their children. Schools, other than voluntary aided schools and those of a religious character, must teach religious education according to the locally agreed syllabus. Each agreed syllabus should reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teachings and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.

Religious education makes a distinctive contribution to the school curriculum by developing pupils’ knowledge and understanding of religion, religious beliefs, practices, language and traditions and their influence on individuals, communities, societies and cultures. It enables pupils to consider and respond to a range of important questions related to their own spiritual development, the development of values and attitudes and fundamental questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life.


Sex education

Primary schools must provide and keep up to date a written statement of their policy on sex education and make it available to parents and pupils. Parents can choose to withdraw their children from all or part of sex education, where it is provided.


Personal, social and health education and citizenship

At key stages 1 and 2 there is a joint non-statutory framework for personal, social and health education and citizenship.


Modern foreign languages

In KS2 children learn a Modern Foriegn Language. In school, all KS2 children are taught French and all children learn Bristish Sign Language.


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