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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

The National Curriculum for 11 to 16 year olds

From the ages of 11 to 16 your child will move through Key Stages 3 and 4. There are no national tests in Year 9. During Key Stage 4 most will work towards national qualifications – usually GCSEs.

Key Stage 3 and the National Curriculum

Children attending a state school from ages 11 to 14 (Years 7 to 9) follow Key Stage 3 of the National Curriculum.

Key Stage 3 compulsory National Curriculum subjects are:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and technology
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern foreign languages
  • Art and design
  • Music
  • Citizenship
  • Physical education

Schools also have to provide:

  • Careers education and guidance (during Year 9)
  • Sex and Relationship Education (SRE)
  • Religious education

Parents can choose to withdraw their child from all or part of the religious education curriculum and the non-statutory elements of SRE. See the section on ‘SRE and religious education’ below.

Depending on the school, your child may also have lessons in Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE).

Choices in Year 9

During Year 9 your child will choose which subjects they will study at Key Stage 4. Their studies in many of these subjects will lead to nationally recognised qualifications like GCSEs.

They will need to choose subjects they enjoy and can do well in, but should also try to get a balance of subjects - this will give them more options when deciding on courses and jobs in the future.

The school will give you information about options in Year 9. Your child may find it helpful if you talk over these choices with them.

Key Stage 4

Pupils in Years 10 and 11 are usually between the ages of 14 and 16 years old. At the end of Key Stage 4 most pupils sit national examinations, usually GCSEs. Your child will also be able to choose from a growing range of vocational qualifications.

In Key Stage 4, your child will study a mix of compulsory and optional subjects. The subjects they will have to do are:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Physical education
  • Citizenship

In addition, pupils have to take careers education and work-related learning. Schools must also offer religious education, SRE and at least one subject from each of the four 'entitlement' areas.

The entitlement areas are:

  • Arts subjects
  • Design and technology
  • Humanities
  • Modern foreign languages

Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) and religious education


SRE is lifelong learning about physical, moral and emotional development. It involves teaching about sex, sexuality and sexual health, as well as the importance of stable and loving relationships, and of marriage for family life. It is not about the promotion of any particular sexual orientation or of sexual activity.

You are central to your child’s education about sex and relationships - school SRE aims to complement you in this role. Schools develop their own SRE programmes, taking account of government guidance and statutory requirements - and you should get a say too. Schools are encouraged to consult parents when developing or updating their SRE programme.

A copy of the school’s SRE policy must be available for you to inspect. If you have any concerns about it, talk them over with a member of staff. If you’re not satisfied, you can withdraw your child from all or part of the SRE programme. You can't remove your child from statutory elements which form part of the National Curriculum for science.

Religious education

A school’s curriculum for religious education is also drawn up locally – either by the school itself, or by a body with representatives from nearby schools, teachers and faith groups. Parents have the right to withdraw their child from all or part the religious education curriculum.

Review of the curriculum for 11-16 year olds

In September 2007 a new secondary curriculum was published, intended to give schools more flexibility. The new curriculum aims to:

  • cut back on the amount of compulsory subject content
  • give teachers more time and space to personalise their teaching by offering catch up lessons in the basics, and creating opportunities for all pupils to deepen and extend their learning
  • develop a stronger focus on the development of personal attributes and practical life skills
  • help teachers to make connections between the subjects and to view the curriculum as a whole

The new Key Stage 3 curriculum is being brought in over a three year period. It became compulsory for Year 7 pupils in September 2008. From September 2009, it will apply to all Year 7 and Year 8 pupils, and from September 2010 it will apply across Years 7, 8 and 9. Changes to the Key Stage 4 curriculum will be brought in from September 2009.

For more information about the new secondary curriculum, visit the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) website.

Changes to education for 14 to 19 year olds: new Diplomas

As part of reforms to the curriculum for 14 to 19 year olds, from September 2008 a new Diploma qualification will be introduced alongside GCSEs and A levels in selected schools and colleges.

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