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The Curriculum

The curriculum is the programme of study for 3 to 19 year olds in maintained schools in Wales.

General duty

The curriculum for a maintained school or maintained nursery school is required to be a balanced and broad based curriculum that:

  • promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and of society; and
  • prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life (section 99 of the Education Act 1996).

The Welsh Ministers, local authorities in Wales and governing bodies and head teachers of maintained schools or maintained nursery schools are required to carry out their functions with a view to securing that the curriculum requirements are met (section 100 of the Education Act 1996).

Welsh Ministers’ functions in respect of the curriculum

Broadly speaking, the Welsh Ministers have the following functions in respect of the curriculum:

  • to keep under review all aspects of education for maintained schools and maintained nursery schools and all aspects of school examinations and assessments;
  • to publish and disseminate information relating to the curriculum for such schools and to school examinations and assessments; and
  • to make arrangements with appropriate bodies for auditing the quality of assessments.

(See section 29(2) of the Education Act 1997 – the references to the 'Secretary of State' for this purpose are to be read as the 'Welsh Ministers'.)

Additionally, the Welsh Ministers have order making powers for the purpose of specifying the period for which the foundation phase (see below) will apply to pupils (section 102 of the Education Act 2002).

Section 1

The basic curriculum

Every maintained school in Wales is required to adopt a basic curriculum. Section 101 of the Education Act 2002 (EA 2002) provides that this curriculum must include:

  • religious education (in accordance with schedule 19 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998) (but not for nursery classes in primary schools, nor for maintained special schools);
  • the National Curriculum for Wales which is a curriculum for pupils between the age of 3 and 16;
  • personal and social education for pupils who are of compulsory school age;
  • work-related education for pupils during the third and fourth key stages (14  to 16 year olds);
  • sex education for pupils in secondary school or at a special school receiving secondary education;
  • an entitlement to study elected courses of study at the fourth key stage for secondary school pupils (section 116E of EA 2002).

The Welsh Ministers have power to make an order adding further requirements to the curriculum for maintained schools and may change the ages for entering the National Curriculum or the compulsory school age. However, they are not permitted to add to the requirements in respect of religious education or sex education (see section 101(3) of EA 2002).

Section 2

The National Curriculum for Wales

Key features of the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum comprises the ‘Foundation Phase’ as well as ‘Key Stages’ (the Foundation Phase replaced Key Stage 1).  Following completion of the Foundation Phase, pupils embark on ‘programmes of study’ to reach ‘attainment targets’ at the end of the three ‘Key Stages’, which are subject to ‘assessment arrangements' (sections 101, 102, 103 of EA 2002).  In broad terms the age range for the different stages is as follows:

  • Aged 3-7 – Foundation Phase
  • Aged 7-11 – Key Stage 2
  • Aged 11-14 – Key Stage 3
  • Aged 14-16 – Key Stage 4

Foundation Phase and Key Stages

The Foundation Phase applies to children in funded nursery education from the age of three until their seventh birthday (Education (National Curriculum) (Foundation Stage) (Wales) Order 2014 (SI 2014/1996). The subjects which they must be taught and the outcomes to be achieved are set out in a document published by the Welsh Ministers in January 2008 called “Foundation Phase Framework for Children’s Learning for 2 – 7 year olds in Wales”. There are four stages – a foundation phase and Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, which are defined in relation to each pupil by reference to the age of the majority of the pupils in the class at the end of the school year (section 103(1) of EA 2002).

However, the head teacher has a discretion to state, in relation to a particular pupil and a particular subject, that the age attained by that pupil during the school year, rather than the age attained by the majority of the pupils in the class, is the determining factor (section 103(2) of EA 2002). Where no age group is in the majority, each pupil’s own age is the determining factor (section 103(3) of EA 2002).

The curriculum for the foundation phase must specify areas of learning (see table below) and may specify:

  • the knowledge, skills and understanding which pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of the Foundation Phase ('desirable outcomes');
  • the matters, skills and processes which are required to be taught to pupils of different abilities and maturities during the Foundation Phase ('educational programmes'); and
  • assessment arrangements
  • (section 104 of EA 2002).

The curriculum for Key Stages 2 and 3 must comprise the core and other foundation subjects specified in section 105 of EA 2002 and must specify attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements in relation to each of those subjects for each stage. The curriculum for Key Stage 4 must comprise core and other foundation subjects, and must specify targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements in relation to each of them (section 106 of EA 2002).

 Stage  Age Foundation Phase areas of learning or /core subjects for Key Stages  Other foundation subjects
 Foundation Phase  3-7 personal and social development;
well-being and cultural diversity; language, literacy and communication skills; mathematical development; Welsh language development; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; creative development (Framework for Children’s Learning for 3 to 7-year olds in Wales, January 2008, Welsh Ministers).
 N/A
 Key Stage 2  7-11 mathematics; English; science; in relation to Welsh speaking schools, Welsh design and technology; information and communication technology; physical education; history; geography; art and design; music; Welsh if the school is not a Welsh speaking school (sections 105(2)-(4) of EA 2002)
 Key Stage 3  11-14 mathematics; English; science; in relation to Welsh speaking schools, Welsh design and technology; information and communication technology; physical education; history; geography; art and design; music; Welsh if the school is not a Welsh speaking school; a modern foreign language (as specified in an order made by the Welsh Ministers) (sections 105(2)-(4) of EA 2002)
 Key Stage 4  14-16 mathematics; English; science; in relation to Welsh speaking schools, Welsh physical education; Welsh, if the school is not a Welsh-speaking school (section 106 of EA 2002)


Establishment and implementation of the National Curriculum for Wales

The responsibility for establishing and maintaining a National Curriculum for Wales rests with the Welsh Ministers and they are also under a duty to revise the curriculum whenever they consider it expedient to do so (section 108 of EA 2002). The Welsh Ministers specify attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements for each subject in respect of each Key Stage. However, the responsibility for implementing the National Curriculum for Wales in schools rests with local authorities, governing bodies and head teachers.  The head teacher is required to secure that the curriculum is implemented, whereas the local authority and governing body are required to exercise their functions with a view to securing its implementation (section 109 of EA 2002). Similar requirements apply in respect of education at maintained nurseries (section 110 of EA 2002).

Section 3

Exemption from the National Curriculum

It is permitted to disapply or modify the National Curriculum for Wales:

  • for the purpose of enabling development work or experiments to be carried out, and the Welsh Ministers have directed  that the curriculum should not apply or is to be modified (section 111 of EA 2002);
  • if the Welsh Ministers have made regulations about the situation under section 112 of EA 2002;
  • if a pupil has a statement of special education needs (SEN) (section 113 of EA 2002);
  • if there is a temporary exception for an individual  pupil (section 114(1) of EA 2002).

In addition, parents who teach their child at home do not have to follow the National Curriculum for Wales. They are legally required, however, to ensure that their child receives an efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude (section 7 of EA 2002).

Section 4

Local curriculums

Each local authority in Wales is under a duty to form for its area one or more local curriculums for pupils in Key Stage 4 (section 116A(1) of EA 2002). These local curriculums must consist of suitable courses of study which fall within what are referred to as 'learning domains' (section 116A(2) of EA 2002). The learning domains are mathematics, science and technology; business, administration and law; services for people; arts, media, culture and languages; humanities, social sciences and preparation for life and work (section 116A(3) of EA 2002).

The Welsh Ministers have the power, by order, to amend these learning domains (section 116L of EA 2002).

A local authority must, in exercising its function in relation to the local curriculum, promote access to and availability of courses of study through the medium of Welsh, and must have regard to any guidance given by the Welsh Ministers in doing so (section 116B(1) and (2) of EA 2002). Registered pupils at maintained schools have a right to study local curriculum courses in Key Stage 4, subject to regulations made by the Welsh Ministers for the purpose of specifying the maximum number of courses of study, the level of points awarded and allowed, and the period in which elections to such courses may be made (section 116D of EA 2002). However, a pupil is no longer entitled to study such a course if they are no longer registered at the school, or if the head teacher of the school decides that the pupil is not entitled to follow the course (section 116E(1) of EA 2002).

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