All state schools have to teach the national curriculum, with the exception of free schools and academies, which can choose their own curriculum as long as it is ‘broad and balanced.’ They are all inspected by Ofsted.
Private schools can also opt out of teaching the national curriculum, but they must be registered with the government and inspected regularly.
Between the ages of 4 and 14, the national curriculum involves being taught English, maths, science, DT, history, geography, art, music, PE, computing and (from 7 upwards) at least one language. Schools also provide religious education (RE), but parents can request for their child to be removed from part or all of these lessons. Some schools also teach personal, social and health education (PSHE) and citizenship.
Exams for 4 to 14 year olds
Year 1 phonics screening test: In June, your child will be asked to read 40 words out loud to a teacher, who assesses whether he or she needs extra help with reading and feeds back the results to you. This is repeated in year 2 if they didn’t do well enough.
Key stage 1 Sats: These assessments take place in the May of year 2 (age 7) and test children’s ability in maths and reading (plus an optional test in English grammar, punctuation and spelling). The tests are informal, so they aren’t timed and they take place in a normal classroom situation. From 2023, they will be made non-statutory, so schools will choose whether to administer them or not.
Key stage 2 Sats: These assessments take place in the May of year 6 (age 11) and are more formal tests in English (grammar, punctuation, spelling and reading) and maths.
Sats tests were designed to measure how schools, rather than pupils, are performing, though some secondary schools take the KS2 results into account when setting pupils.
11+: This is the entrance exam procedure for a fee-paying or state grammar school. State grammar schools must now give out initial results before the closing date for all secondary school applications in October - so in many cases you need to sign up by July of year 5, and exams often take place in September of year 6. With independent schools, exams usually take place from November to January. However, some independent schools, especially in London, have formed themselves into consortia so that your child sits one exam which is then used as an application to a whole bunch of schools, and most give out their results at the same time – usually in February. For more information, see Understanding the 11+
Common pre-tests: Some senior schools require pupils applying for 13+ entrance to take these tests in year 6 or 7 to assess their attainment and potential. The tests consist of multiple choice questions in maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and take around two-and-a-half hours to complete (sometimes split up). The tests take place either in the child's own school or at the senior school you’re applying to. For overseas candidates, testing centres are sometimes used. If your child is offered a place at the senior school after completing these tests, they’ll normally still sit the common entrance later on.
Common entrance (CE): This is taken for entrance into some senior independent schools at age 11 (usually girls’ boarding schools) or 13 (boys and girls). Often, 13+ CE candidates have already been offered a place at the relevant senior school as a result of their pre-test (see above). Answers are marked by the senior school according its own grade boundaries. There are different levels of paper to suit the ability of the child and the academic profile of the senior school. For more information, see Understanding the Common Entrance