The 2014 national curriculum: what primary school parents need to know

National curriculum in 2014
In September 2014 the primary school curriculum was given a radical shake-up. So why the big change, and how will it affect your child? TheSchoolRun explains everything parents need to know.

In 2013 the government announced plans to overhaul the national curriculum.

For most children, these changes took effect from September 2014, but children in Years 2 and 6 followed the previous programmes of study until September 2015 in English, maths and science.

Why the big curriculum change?

The main aim is to raise standards, particularly as the UK is slipping down international student assessment league tables. Inspired by what is taught in the world’s most successful school systems, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Finland, as well as in the best UK schools, it’s designed to produce productive, creative and well educated students. 

Although the new curriculum is intended to be more challenging, the content is actually slimmer than the current curriculum, focusing on essential core subject knowledge and skills such as essay writing and computer programming. It also follows on from similar curriculum revamps in Scotland and Wales, which were implemented in 2010 and 2008 respectively and have a similar focus on excellence and core skills.

Will all primary schools follow the new curriculum from 2014?

No – academies and free schools are exempt. This is partly because these schools need more flexibility in what they teach (for example, in the case of faith schools that have a strong emphasis on religious education), but many critics think that the government is using the lure of not having to follow the national curriculum to encourage more schools to become academies. Academies and free schools do, however, still have to teach a balanced and broadly based curriculum that includes English, maths, science and RE.

What are the main changes?

The table below summarises the main changes in the core subjects covered by the National Curriculum.


What’s new?


  • Stronger emphasis on vocabulary development, grammar, punctuation and spelling (for example, the use of commas and apostrophes will be taught in KS1)
  • Handwriting – not currently assessed under the national curriculum – is expected to be fluent, legible and speedy
  • Spoken English has a greater emphasis, with children to be taught debating  and presenting skills


  • Five-year-olds will be expected to learn to count up to 100 (compared to 20 under the current curriculum) and learn number bonds to 20 (currently up to 10)
  • Simple fractions (1/4 and 1/2) will be taught from KS1, and by the end of primary school, children should be able to convert decimal fractions to simple fractions (e.g. 0.375 = 3/8)
  • By the age of nine, children will be expected to know times tables up to 12x12 (currently 10x10 by the end of primary school)
  • Calculators will not be used at all in primary schools, to encourage mental arithmetic


  • Strong focus on scientific knowledge and language, rather than understanding the nature and methods of science in abstract terms
  • Evolution will be taught in primary schools for the first time
  • Non-core subjects like caring for animals will be replaced by topics like the human circulatory system

Design & technology

  • Afforded greater importance under the new curriculum, setting children on the path to becoming the designers and engineers of the future
  • More sophisticated use of design equipment such as electronics and robotics
  • In KS2, children will learn about how key events and individuals in design and technology have shaped the world


  • Currently not statutory, a modern foreign language or ancient language (Latin or Greek) will be mandatory in KS2
  • Children will be expected to master basic grammar and accurate pronunciation and to converse, present, read and write in the language

Will the 2014 primary curriculum involve any new tests?

The Department for Education has also overhauled the format and content of SATs taken in Year 2 and Year 6, to reflect the new curriculum. These will be taken for the first time in May 2016. You can check out some example papers on the DfE's website. There will also be a new grading system, replacing the previous national curriculum levels.

Could it all be too much for some children?

Some educationalists have complained that the new national curriculum fails to recognise the needs of children of different abilities. But the Department for Education (DfE) is standing by its plans. ‘We make no apologies for having high expectations for our children,’ says a DfE spokesperson. ‘We believe they can achieve more, and we will not stand by and allow pupils to lose ground with their peers in countries across the world.’