Key Stage 3

State schools follow the National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 meaning their curriculum offer is fairly standard. Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum, but they tend to.  However, there are some variations which might influence your choice of school, taking into consideration your child’s strengths and preferences. It is also important to note that, at the time of writing, the current government is consulting on a new national curriculumcurriculum

The Key Stage 3 National Curriculum consists of: English, Maths, Science, Design and Technology, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), Art & Design, Music, PE, Citizenship, RE, Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE).

Schools have greater freedom in the way they teach PSHE, and RE, than the other subject areas.

  • Most secondary schools offer Drama as a separate subject, but a minority incorporate it within English at Key Stage 3.
  • Science is taught in various ways. At Key Stage 3 it is usually taught as integrated Science, but in more academic schools it can be split up into Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Technology is often broken down into different subjects, for example, Resistant Materials, Food Technology and Textiles.
  • The Modern Foreign Language most schools offer in Year 7 is French. Sometimes, in Year 8 some students have the chance to take a second language, for example, Spanish.
  • There is often a curriculum bias at Key Stage 3 in specialist schools. For example a language college might require all students to take two modern foreign languages.
  • Some subjects are often taught through others. For example, you might find photography within the Art curriculum.
  • PSHE and Citizenship may not feature as separate subjects, but might be delivered through tutor time or assemblies.
  • Like subjects are often grouped together. For example, Expressive and Performing Arts can include Art, Dance, Drama and Music. Humanities may include Geography, History, RE, Citizenship and PSHE.
  • Sometimes subjects are offered on a termly carousel arrangement for example the combination of Art,Textiles and Graphics.
  • Sometimes students study subjects in more depth, and some schools bring down Key Stage 4 qualifications into Key Stage 3 for gifted and talented pupils.
  • It is important to find out about grouping arrangements at Key Stage 3, whether subjects set, stream or teach in mixed ability groups.
  • Remember to find out how students access any additional subjects offered in Years 8 or 9. For example, sometimes only students who are in the top set for French are offered a second modern foreign language.
  • The variations that schools offer within the statutory requirements of the National Curriculum often depend on the expertise of the staff. For example an Art teacher’s specialism might mean that a school can offer more Textiles or Photography.

Key Stage 4

If your child wishes to specialise in a subject at Key Stage 4 that is not part of the school’s core offer, then it is important to find out whether this subject is regularly offered and if students are guaranteed a place on the course.

English, Maths, Science, ICT, RE,  PE, Citizenship, Personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE)  are obligatory subjects in all schools at Key Stage 4. In most schools, however, they are not all examination subjects. English, Maths and Science certainly will be. However, individual schools will have differing arrangements for which of the other core subjects students are studied to examination level.

  • Individual schools have a variety of additional compulsory subjects. For example, faithschools normally have RE as a compulsory examination subject.
  • A specialist language college is likely to make at least one language compulsory.
  • Specialist schools are likely to have more Key Stage 4 options in their specialist area than other schools which do not share their specialism.
  • A good school should try to develop a flexible curriculum that meets the diverse needs of its pupils.  As a parent, you are looking for a school which will meet the individual needs of your child, bearing in mind that their needs will change.  Every child needs, as much as possible, a curriculum suited to them, to succeed, not suited to the school.
  • The more flexible the curriculum is, the better.
  • Often, because of staffing or curriculum changes, schools will have a popular option subject when your child arrives in Year 7 which may not exist by the time they reach Year 10.
  • Most schools will not run an option subject if there is not enough take up from students.
  • Some schools run a ‘blocked’ curriculum at Key Stage 4, from which pupils have the freedom to choose only certain combinations of subjects.
  • The range of vocational and applied options varies greatly from school to school. Some schools will offer two qualifications in one subject area, for example, both a GCSE and a BTEC in Science. Sometimes, only high ability students can follow the GCSE in a subject area where there are two qualifications offered, and these same students cannot take the vocational option. Other schools leave the choice between vocational and academic courses up to the student and their parents.
  • Some schools provide a skills based qualification, sometimes involving a college placement, at Key Stage 4 for students who might find it difficult to access the full examination curriculum.
  • For learners who find GCSEs and BTECS difficult, a school should offer Foundation Learning, which are flexible courses for pupils who feel challenged by learning.
  • Some schools will work with a group of other schools, colleges, private providers, or businesses to deliver their Key Stage 4 curriculum.
  • Some schools will have an ‘age not stage’ approach to qualifications at Key Stage 4, with, for example, pupils completing examinations at the end of Year 10 if they are ready for it.
  • Don’t be put off by qualifications you are unfamiliar with.  Most parents’ knowledge about examinations is at least ten years out of date.  You need a curriculum that suits your child, that has high success rates, and that has currency beyond the school.

Further Information

Open Evening

If your child is likely to be interested in a particular course at Key Stage 4 make sure the school will be running it when your child reaches Year. Find out what the eligibility is for each Key Stage 4 option. Find out what the school sees as a viable class size to run a Key Stage 4 option. Find out what choice the pupils have at Key Stage 4.  Do they, for example, have to choose certain combinations of subjects that might not suit your child?

If your child is likely to excel in an applied, vocational curriculum then this is the area about which you must enquire.  If your child is likely to flourish with an academic curriculum, then this should be your focus for questions.


Check what the curriculum offer is for Key Stage 3. For example it might be that your child has been looking forward to taking Drama at secondary school but it is not offered as a separate subject until Year 9. Your child might be interested in the school because they offer Textiles, but they will only be able to access it one term per year. Check what the Key Stage 3 grouping arrangements are and the selection criteria for any additional subjects on offer.

There will usually be a list of Key Stage 4 option subjects with their results. It is also worth finding out what the compulsory subjects are. You do not want your child saddled with a compulsory subject that you do not think is appropriate or useful.

School Publications

Ask for a copy of the option information for the current Year 9 group.


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