- National Curriculum
The National Curriculum was introduced in all state schools in England and Wales in 1988. Children’s education from 5 to 16 is divided into four key stages. Key stage 1 covers ages 5–7, key stage 2 ages 7–11, key stage 3 ages 11–14 and key stage 4 ages 14–16. At key stages 1 and 2 pupils study English, mathematics, science, technology, history, geography, art, music and physical education. A modern foreign language is added at key stage 3. Pupils at key stage 4 must study English, mathematics, science, physical education, technology and citizenship and may take several other subjects. In Wales the Welsh language is also studied. Detailed guidance about what children should be taught is given in official programmes of study. A disadvantage for teachers has been the increase in the number of documents they are expected to read and the reports they have to write. The National Curriculum does not apply in Scotland, where individual schools decide which subjects and topics to teach.Attainment targets are set within each subject and pupils’ progress is checked at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 when they complete National Curriculum Tests (NCTs). Pupils are graded into eight levels for all subjects except art, music and physical education. At the age of 16, at the end of key stage 4, pupils take GCSE exams, which are also based on material covered in the National Curriculum. Some children struggle to reach the required standard. If they have learning difficulties, their parents may ask for them to be statemented, i.e. given an official document saying that they have special educational needs.The NCTs allow education authorities, in theory at least, to compare standards between different schools. Since the National Curriculum was introduced many people have expressed doubts about the publication in the press of school league tables showing the relative performance of schools and about the increased competition.There is no national curriculum in the US. State governments are responsible for deciding the curriculum for primary and secondary schools. The curriculum is often the cause of debate between people who want to emphasize basic skills, such as reading, writing and mathematics, and others who see the curriculum as a political issue and want schools to teach respect for other cultures or history from the point of view of African Americans, or to offer less traditional topics.
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