With so many changes in the National Curriculum in recent years, it’s no wonder so many parents are confused about how their child’s education is structured.
We’ve put together this simple guide, gathered from a number of sources, that gives you an insight into the goals and principles behind the Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 / GCSE curricula.
What is Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4?
Key Stage 3 begins in the school year in which pupils reach the age of 12. It ends at the end of the school year in which reach they the age of 14.
Key Stage 4 begins in the school year in which most pupils reach the age of 15, and ends at the end of the school year when pupils cease to be of compulsory school-age.
At the end of each Key Stage, each National Curriculum subject has a target. Children should have reached skills, knowledge and understanding at a particular level, and their progress is tested at the end of each Key Stage.
The SATs (Standard Attainment Tasks) take place at the end of Key Stage 3, and the GCSEs (General Certificate of Education) take place at the end of Key Stage 4.
Why Have Targets and Tests?
Schools use them to see where children need to improve, so that they can tailor their teaching.
Children get a sense of achievement from a milestone and going beyond it.
The government uses them to see how many children are making the right kind of progress (especially in English, Maths and Science, where children take National Curriculum tests at age 14.)
The 'targets for every child' in each subject describe what children should be able to do and know.
The aim of the targets is to give a level that most children should have reached by a certain age. There will always be some children below and others beyond the target. If your child finds their work easy, talk to their teacher about what target they should be aiming for - they may need to aim higher. If your child is likely to find level 5 hard when they get to age 14, the school will tell you in good time. Every school must give parents an annual report on how their child is progressing in each National Curriculum subject.
What is the Key Stage 3 National Strategy?
The Key Stage 3 National Strategy provides secondary and middle schools with an exciting and challenging opportunity to build on the successes of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies in primary schools. It is based on four important principles:
Expectations: establishing high expectations for all pupils and setting challenging targets for them to achieve
Progression: strengthening the transition from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 and ensuring progression in teaching and learning across Key Stage 3
Engagement: promoting approaches to teaching and learning that engage and motivate pupils and demand their active participation
Transformation: strengthening teaching and learning through a programme of professional development and practical support
What subjects are involved in the Strategy?
There are five strands of the Strategy supported by the Standards Fund. These are English, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and the foundation subjects (TLF).
SATs - Standard Attainment Tasks
These are national tests taken by all school children in England and Wales at the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. All children take the same tests, and are tested in English, Maths and Science (Science from Key Stage 2 onwards) to assess their levels of knowledge, skills and understanding.
The results from these tests go forward to make up the Schools Performance Tables.
Key Stage 4
Choosing subjects for Year 10, (around 14 years old), is one of the first big decisions your child has to make in their life - but no one expects all the answers straight away. This is a stage where you and your child will need to discuss choices.
Your child has to make choices about subjects, and might end up studying a unique mix of subjects
There are choices to be made about styles of assessment: should your child choose an option with lots of coursework, or will they be better off with exams?
And, at the same time as studying for exams, you and your child will be thinking about the next steps: should they go on to advanced level study, training or work?
Students, parents and teachers need to work together to ensure that students choose a sensible balanced programme of GCSE subjects. The aim is to ensure a good general education and to leave future career choices open. In Years 10 and 11, students study for eleven examination subjects.
In accordance with the National Curriculum, all students study the core of compulsory GCSE subjects, namely English, English Literature, Mathematics and Dual Award Science. All students follow a course in Religious Education together with either Design Technology or Information Technology depending on option choices, each comprising a short GCSE course.
Four option choices are then made within the constraints of the National Curriculum.
Subjects currently on offer are Art & Design, Business Studies & Economics, Design Technology, Drama, French, Geography, German, History, Information Technology, Latin/Classical Civilisation, Music, Physical Education and Spanish.
In addition, all students will follow non-examination courses in Physical Education, which, in Year 11, includes the Junior Sports Leaders Award course, and in Personal, Social and Health Education. This includes Citizenship. A period of work experience takes place in Year 11, after the end of the GCSE examinations.
Your child's school will offer as much choice as possible, but there are two practical issues all schools have to face:
There are several types of qualification, but it would be unmanageable for schools to offer them for all subjects. So schools decide which kinds of qualification best suit their pupils and teachers and become expert at teaching them.
Timetabling everyone's needs becomes very complex. If the school cannot give your child all their first-choice options, this is because the teacher responsible for a particular subject would need to be in two places at once, or because the timetable simply cannot fit in a particular choice.
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