Understanding the National Curriculum at Primary School

Helping your child meet their full potential and do well at school is a priority for most parents. But understanding the National Curriculum and what it means for your child (and what they need to know and be able to do) can be a challenge in itself.

In this post, we’re going to explain the basics of the National Curriculum, how English and maths are taught at primary school and what your children will be expected to know. 

The basics of the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum was first introduced in the 1980s. There have been various changes since and the latest version of it came into force in 2014. It covers what subjects should be taught to children aged 5 to 19 and what knowledge, skills and understanding children should achieve (and how this should be explained).

The curriculum is divided into 4 Key Stages:

  • Key Stage 1 - Years 1 and 2

  • Key Stage 2 - Years 3, 4, 5 and 6

  • Key Stage 3 - Years 7, 8 and 9

  • Key Stage 4 - Years 10 and 11

The core subjects of the National Curriculum

The core National curriculum subjects are:

  • English

  • Maths

  • Science

  • Physical Education

For Key Stage 1 and 2 (the primary school years) the following subjects are also compulsory: Design and Technology, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), History, Geography, Art and Design, a language (KS2 only) and Music.

For each subject and for each Key Stage, the National Curriculum programmes of study set out what pupils should be taught, and attainment targets set out the expected standards of their performance. Within that, schools choose how they organise their school curriculum.

How is English taught under the National Curriculum?

English or literacy is taught with:

  • A strong emphasis on grammar, punctuation and spelling (for example, the use of commas and apostrophes is taught in KS1). Children are also taught phonics with emphasis on developing a wide vocabulary and the ability to use synonyms, metaphors etc., using reasoning skills as an aid to understanding.  

  • Reading for pleasure is a focus, as is the ability to read easily, fluently and with good understanding. Children must be able to demonstrate the reasoning behind a text.

  • A focus on good handwriting – which should be fluent, legible and reasonably fast.

  • Spoken English as an important skill, with children being taught debating, reciting poetry and presenting skills and being required to explain their thoughts and reasoning. They should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideas.

How is maths taught?

The 2014 curriculum changes mean:

  • Five-year-olds are now expected to learn to count up to 100 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. Reasoning skills are important at this stage to help with the visual perception of fractions.

  • By the age of nine, children are expected to know times tables up to 12x12. 

  • Calculators should not to be used at primary school.

The language of teachers – what does it mean?

You may hear teachers talk about reasoning or more specifically, “fluency, reasoning and application”. This is because the National Curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils:

  • “become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics

  • reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and generalisations, and developing an argument … using mathematical language

  • can solve problems by applying their mathematics to a variety of routine and non-routine problems with increasing sophistication.”

This needs to be demonstrated by your child by “using formal written methods and mental strategies as well as reasoning mathematically and problem-solving.”

Reasoning skills are therefore becoming increasingly important in the classroom. In the independent sector, reasoning skills (verbal and non-verbal) have always been key topics for study because reasoning is needed for all school subjects and for everyday life. In short, reasoning skills can impact right through to GCSE and beyond. As a result, at MagiKats, we have now launched a reasoning programme for Years 4 to 8 and we will be blogging about this soon.

Testing your child’s progress and achievement

There are National Curriculum tests (known as SATS) in Year 2 (KS1) and Year 6 (KS2). Year 6 SATS are normally marked externally, while Year 2 SATS are marked by teachers at the school. 

In addition, a phonics screening test is conducted in Year 1 and a multiplication tables check in Year 4 (for tables up to 12x12) will be introduced in 2020.

Key Stage 1 SATS

At this stage, your child will be tested on reading and maths. They will also be assessed by their teacher on speaking and listening, writing and science.

Key Stage 2 SATS

In Year 6, children sit tests in:

  • Reading

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar

  • Arithmetic

  • Maths Reasoning

The tests normally take place in May and you get the results in July. These tests are both set and marked externally. Other subjects, including writing, speaking, listening and science, are teacher assessed.

We’ll be blogging about SATS in more detail in the new year.

Helping your child

Reading with your child and encouraging them to read is essential. Try and find what ever it is that engages and interests them. Talk about what they’ve read and try and think of fun ways to encourage them to practice writing. Ask them to write the shopping list, write a letter or postcard or write their own story.

Consider investing in a children’s dictionary and thesaurus, play word games and I-spy on car journeys. Always explain a large word when you come across one, using reasoning skills to help your child to understand as you break down the word.

You can help with maths and reasoning in all sorts of ways. Discuss why you got a certain amount of change from a shop or how much of an ingredient you’ll need and why. Help your child to use their tables to get answers, by asking questions like, “If you’ve eaten 5 packets of crisps over 7 days, how many packets have you eaten this week?”. Weigh, measure and time things and talk about the results and practice telling the time using a traditional clock, a digital clock and a 24-hour clock.

If you’d like to know more about the National Curriculum, you can find all the details here:


If you’d like to know more about how MagiKats can help your child to reach their full potential as well as reach their targets, just visit or call your nearest MagiKats centre.