What do children have to learn?

 The learning curriculum and goals depend on a child's age

As soon as your child enters the UK school and pre-school system, his or her learning will be shaped by UK education policies. These policies define what children learn and when:

  • The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
  • The National Curriculum
  • Non-academic aims.


The Early Years Foundation Stage

Early year’s child care providers have to follow a structure of learning, development and care for children from birth to five years old. This is called the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and it enables your child to learn through a range of activities.

The aims of EYFS are that:

  • children learn through play
  • childcare providers work closely with parents and parents;are kept up to date on their child’s progress
  • children with different backgrounds and levels of ability, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, benefit from the same welfare, learning and all-round development.
The EYFS structure must be followed by a wide range of childcare providers including: 
  • reception and nursery classes in mainstream and independent schools
  • day nurseries
  • child-minders
  • playgroups
  • after school and breakfast clubs
  • holiday play schemes
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres.


When you choose a childcare provider, for example a nursery or child-minder, ask them how they apply EYFS and what you can expect from them. For example, nurseries will provide you with regular updates on the new skills of your child as well as simply telling you what they had for lunch and what activities they did that day.

As children benefit from learn from fun, even playing with a train set with another child will teach your child many new skills.

The EYFS has recently changed following a long review of the effectiveness of structured teaching of this age group. The Department of Education's website provides more detail on EYFS.

The National Curriculum

The national curriculum sets out the UK's legal requirements for mainstream schools.

The National Curriculum is made up of blocks of years, known as Key Stages:

  • Year 1 and Year 2 of primary school are known as Key Stage 1.
  • Years 3 to 6 of primary school are known as Key Stage 2
  • Years 7 to 9 of senior school are known as Key Stage 3.

The compulsory academic subjects are the same for Key Stages 1 and 2:

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


Schools also have to teach religious education, though parents have the right to withdraw children for all or part of the religious education curriculum.

In addition, schools are advised to teach personal, social and health education (PSHE) and citizenship, together with at least one modern foreign language.


National Curriculum levels

At Key Stages 1, 2, and 3, the National Curriculum is accompanied by a series of eight levels. These are used to measure your child's progress compared to pupils of the same age across the country. All schools assess pupils’ progress during the school year, though some make more frequent use of the National Curriculum levels than others. You'll receive information about the level your child has reached at parent-teacher evenings and in their school reports.

The Department of Education published a table of levels which although subject to change is a useful guide for parents: specific requirements in each subject/key stage.


Assessment of your child's learning

Your child will be formally assessed at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. At the end of Key Stage 1, the teacher’s assessment of your child’s progress will take account of their performance in several tasks and tests in English and maths. At the end of Key Stage 2, your child will take national tests in English, maths and science. You will be sent their test results and their teacher’s assessment of their progress. By the end of Key Stage 1, most children will have reached level 2, and by the end of Key Stage 2 most will be at level 4.

Non-academic education aims

In 2000 the Government added aims to the National Curriculum which focused on developing personal qualities. This was a positive step forward as it aims at developing the holistic child. Many teachers and theorists however argue that while aims are a positive step forward, the national curriculum is too rigid and promotes an outdated view of intelligence. It is argued that a subject led curriculum portrays a restricted view of success and gives children an unrealistic view of life. Most subjects have introverted aims, giving a narrow form of education. Instead some people believe that we should be promoting divergent thinking through making links between subjects and cross-curricular activities.



Click to read more on how children learn

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