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Getting to Know the Famous British Curriculum

Updated: Sep 14, 2019




Why a British Curriculum


The National Curriculum of England (also commonly referred to as the “UK Curriculum” or the “British Curriculum”) is a very structured curriculum that is designed to meet the needs of all students. British education has achieved a worldwide reputation for its quality and is recognised around the globe, especially in Southeast Asian countries. Nearly 45% of all international schools offer a British-based curriculum, where students are taught to learn by questioning, creative thinking and problem-solving rather than by the retention of facts. With the famous Key Stage (KS) curriculum, students get to experience learning in a well-structured way, from a conceptual level and all the way to advanced in-depth level.

Even though we have all come across this term, KS, questions remain over what it really is, how it is structured, what are the subjects or how does it veer off to higher education? For both parents and children, awareness of what it entails from start to finish will not only be likelier to result in better test results but also ensure that there aren’t any unpleasant surprises once you embark on this journey.



Overall Structure


The British Curriculum is divided into 4 Key Stages (KS), namely, Foundation Stage (ages 3 to 5), primary education (ages 5 to 11) and secondary education (ages 11 to 18) leading to an A Level qualification. At the end of each KS, progress is examined by assessments – this is to ensure that students are assessed by the national common standard and not only by school standard. Below is the summary table of the KS structure. So, let’s break it down one by one, starting from the early year education



Early Year and Key Stage 1


The early year education is not really considered to be a part of the KS system, but it is the starting point for most children in the UK for their educational journey. This is the level where young learners learn the most fundamental academics skill and social skill, ranging from basic English, maths and fun science at the most conceptual level. On top of this, students participate in all sorts of fun activities to improve their cognitive motor skill, creativity and etc.

KS 1 is where the real academics journey starts. This is where young learners start to proudly call themselves the “first grader”! It is the point where all the fun learning and British English practising begins for children. The main focal point here at this level is the development of language skill as well as maths and science. At the end of year 2, children are assessed in the national assessment to finish off their KS 1 level.

There are 10 subjects which must be taught in KS 1. Here’s the list in full:

- English

- Maths

- Science

- History

- Geography

- Art and design

- Music

- Design and technology

- Physical education (which must include swimming)

- Computing (often called information and communication technology or ICT)



Key Stage 2 and 3


KS 2 and 3 are the next phase of young learners. In simple words, KS 2 and 3 is the national curriculum designed to guide schools what subjects to teach and what topics to cover and at what level. At this level, students slowly dive into more challenging concepts weather in science, maths, English, geography, computing, art and design, and etc. The spectrum of subjects covered at these stages are quite wide, and the reason being is to provide conceptual level exposure to various topics to young learners. This allows them to explore their inner interest and realize what they enjoy learning the most.


The National Curriculum sets out what children in KS2 should be taught. There are 11 mandatory subjects:

- English

- Maths

- Science

- History

- Geography

- Ancient and modern foreign languages

- Art and design

- Music

- Design and technology

- Physical education (which must include swimming)

- Computing (often called information and communication technology or ICT)



Key Stage 4


At KS 4, this is the point where students start to experience the freedom of choice in their academics path and start shaping up their own interest and future career. Students are allowed to choose subjects that they would like to study. At this stage, students follow the “General Certificate of Secondary School Education” or known for short as the “GCSEs” programme (iGCSEs is the term used for international exam outside the UK). During the GCSEs programme, students typically take courses in the core and other chosen subjects group. The rule of thumb here is that they need at least 5 GCSEs subjects to finish this stage.


Not only academics excellence is focused here, but students are also encouraged to expand their interest through extra-curricular activities and subjects that can enhance their personal skills such as art & design, physical exercise, computer science and etc. This is the stage where students slowly realize their true potential which will prepare them for the coming stage. They are awarded certificates from the examination boards for the subjects that they successfully complete.


For the complete GCSEs (or IGCSEs) subject list, please visit https://www.cambridgeinternational.org/programmes-and-qualifications/cambridge-secondary-2/cambridge-igcse/subjects/



What Comes After Key Stage 4?


After a long academic journey through all 4 key stages in the British curriculum, it is now the time for students to decide what their future career would look like! After passing the requirements for the GCSEs, students take the AS/A-Level education which is an in-depth level of education. You normally need at least five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4/A* to C or at least grade B in the specific subject(s) you want to study in order to take A/AS-Levels. However, the specific requirements needed to study A levels will vary across schools and colleges. It's important to check what you will need with the school or college you are looking to study at. The minimum number of the subject required to finish the AS/A-Level education is 3 subjects. Nevertheless, AS/A-level education is somewhat close to 1st-year university level education which is in-depth and challenging. In the UK, AS/A-Levels is what required to continue to university. In addition, the student may opt to do IB education instead of AS/A-Level, given that the school provides IB education.

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