Changes to the National Curriculum in England

Changes to the National Curriculum in England

We’ve highlighted some of the key changes that will take place at the start of the school year in 2015 and in the years to follow. Take a look at the relevant school period to see how these changes may impact on your children.

Please note that these changes will not affect children in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Isle of Mann.

Primary Education

Changes to primary education – key stages 1, 2 and 3 – have been in place for some year groups since 2014 but as of September 2015 all year groups will be following the new curriculum. Years 1, 3, 4 and 5 will have already started, but those in Years 2 and 6 will be starting it from this year. The new curriculum sees a shift in focus points for some subjects and is overall tougher than previously, particularly when it comes to numeracy and literacy.

Maths is expected to increase in difficulty, with more secondary maths topics covered, including long-division, more fractions and decimals, and pupils will be faced with more multi-step problem solving tasks. This will be most apparent during Year 6. Mental Arithmetic will no longer be tested and has been replaced with an Arithmetic paper. Although learning material will be set out year by year, there will be some flexibility to allow for individual progress. It’s worth noting that calculators have been banned in the Key Stage 2 SAT since 2014 and this is being upheld.

Other subjects that will see notable changes include English, in which there will be a stronger emphasis on vocabulary, handwriting, spoken English and spelling, punctuation and grammar. In science there will be more focus on facts than methodology and evolution will also be added as a topic of study. ICT will change to computing curriculum and include programming and internet safety, and languages which will be compulsory and require a basic knowledge of grammar and pronunciation.

The first SATs based on the new curriculum will be taken in May 2016 by those starting Year 2 or Year 6 in September 2015. Key Stage 1 tests will now be externally set but still marked by teachers, and a new Key Stage 1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test will be introduced. The level system to assess progress will be removed and schools will be encouraged to develop their own methods of monitoring progress. Although no measuring system is being enforced, many schools intend to use the following terms to assess pupil progress:

  1. “Emerging”: Around half of the yearly objectives have been achieved.
  2. “Expected/Secure”: Most of the yearly objectives have been achieved.
  3. “Exceeding”: All of the yearly objectives and potentially some from the year above have been achieved.

A scaled score will also be in place with 100 expected to be the National standard. There will no longer be a Level 6 Extension test, and there will still be no national tests for students in Key Stage 3.


Perhaps some of the biggest changes to the National Curriculum in 2015 will affect GCSEs. For now the changes will only influence Maths and English, and further changes for other subjects will take place in 2016. Students starting Year 10 in September 2015 will begin the new curriculum, but those students who will be starting Year 11 will continue with the old curriculum, and so the two will run parallel for one year.

More content will be covered in the new curriculum and so teachers will need to spend more time teaching and less time revising in the classroom. Tiering will also be removed for many subjects and so there will no longer be foundation and higher tiers in these cases; students will all be sitting the same exam. An exception to this will be Maths which will remain split into foundation and higher levels. Maths will now include harder subject material, including more formulae to learn, set theory, iteration and functions, and teachers will particularly have more to teach in the classroom for this subject.

The English foundation course will be removed, but English will no long exist as a single subject and will instead by split into English Language and English Literature. English Language will no longer assess spoken language, and speaking and listening will no longer count towards the overall grade. Spelling, punctuation and grammar will be given much more weight towards the final grade however, contributing 20% of the overall marks instead of 5%. Students studying English Literature will be required to read a wider range of texts but there will be no set texts. They will be tested on four areas of classic literature, including Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, although Of Mice and Men is not on the new curriculum.

A change that may require some adapting to, is the changes to the grading system from letters (A*-F) to numbers (9-1). 9 will be the highest grade possible and is considered harder to achieve than an A*; only 20% of current A/A* student would be awarded a Grade 9. The first exams to use this new grading system will be taken in the summer 2017. Coursework will also be reduced in favour of exams for most subjects, with exceptions such as geography where field work may be undertaken.

A Levels

Changes to A Levels will be rolled out by subject over the next 3 years and the first changes will be put in place in September 2015. Pupils starting Year 13 in September will continue with the old curriculum, but those starting the relevant subjects in Year 12 will be beginning the new curriculum. The following subjects will experience changes over the next few years:

Sept 2015

Art & Design Biology Business Chemistry
Computer Science Economics English Language English Literature
English Language and Literature History Physics Psychology

Sept 2016

Dance and Drama Design and Technology Geography Languages
Music PE RE

Sept 2017

Maths Further Maths

Although the changes are being made per subject, there will be little impact on the content of the courses. The biggest changes will be to the structure of the qualifications and assessments.

AS levels will no longer count towards the overall A Level, and exams will be taken at the very end of the course based on 2 years worth of material. If a student wishes to study at AS level only then they may take their exam at the end of Year 12 for a standalone qualification. If they then change their mind and decide to pursue a full A Level, they will be re-examined on the material they learned in Year 12 as well as Year 13 at the end of the course.

The new curriculum will see less focus on coursework than previously, and so those end of course exams will become even more vital in securing a good grade. Unlike GCSEs, grading will remain the same and be structured by the standard letters. Maths will see the biggest change to course content, with harder subject matter to be dealt with. Those taking science courses will also be expected to use more maths in their work than previously.

Click here to find out out about changes to the National Curriculum in Wales.

You can find out more about the National Curriculum on the Government website

We also stock a wide range of educational books to suit both the old and new curriculums on our website.
Take a look at our Education page for more detail.

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