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What is the national curriculum in England?

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. It includes different subjects at different stages, but maths, sciences, English, physical education and computing are included at all stages.

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

Other curriculum subjects

In addition to the national curriculum, maintained schools in England must also currently offer:

  • Relationships education for pupils of primary age, relationships and sex education (RSE) for pupils of secondary age, and health education for all pupils. These requirements also apply to academies and free schools.
  • Religious education (RE) for all registered pupils. Content will depend on the type of school and (usually) the locally agreed syllabus. Academies and free schools are also required to offer RE through clauses in their funding agreements.

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

Curriculum during the coronavirus pandemic

During the summer term of 2020, schools in England were closed to most pupils. Where children and young people were learning at home during this time, the Department for Education made clear that schools did not have to offer a full curriculum remotely. Most pupils returned for the September 2020 school term, and the expectation was that the full curriculum would resume. During the spring 2021 lockdown, when schools were again closed to most pupils, the DfE published guidance on remote education, which was clear that schools should offer a “planned and well-sequenced curriculum”.

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