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

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 was 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, the 2014 curriculum was designed to produce productive, creative and well educated students. 

Although the new curriculum was intended to be more challenging, the content was actually slimmer than the previous curriculum, focusing on essential core subject knowledge and skills such as essay writing and computer programming. It also followed 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. (Wales will be introducing a new curriculum from September 2022.)

Have all English primary schools followed the new curriculum since 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 primary curriculum changes?

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


What changed in the 2014 curriculum?


  • Stronger emphasis on vocabulary development, grammar, punctuation and spelling (for example, the use of commas and apostrophes is taught in KS1)
  • Handwriting – not previously 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 are expected to learn to count up to 100 (compared to 20 under the previous curriculum) and learn number bonds to 20
  • Simple fractions (1/4 and 1/2) are 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 are expected to know times tables up to 12x12 (previously 10x10 by the end of primary school)
  • Calculators are now not to 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 is taught in primary schools for the first time
  • Non-core subjects like caring for animals have been 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 learn about how key events and individuals in design and technology have shaped the world


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

Did the 2014 primary curriculum involve any new tests?

The Department for Education overhauled the format and content of SATs taken in Year 2 and Year 6, to reflect the new curriculum. These were taken for the first time in May 2016. There is also a new grading system, replacing the previous national curriculum levels.

Could it all be too much for some children?

Some educationalists complained that the 2014 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.’