National Curriculum - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Annex 1—International comparison of curriculum frameworks

Comparison of the school curriculum across five countries: based on information from
England Canada—Ontario France   Singapore Sweden
StructureEarly years 0 to 5Pre-compulsory 4/5 to 6/7Pre-elementary 2 to 6Pre-school 0 to 6/7Pre-school 1 to 5/6
Primary 5 to 11Elementary 6/7 to 11/13Elementary-

basic learning

5 to 8 Primary-


6/7 to 10 Primary and lower secondary 6/7 to 16
Secondary 11 to 14,

14 to 16

Junior high school 11/13 to 15/16Elementary-


8 to 11Primary-


10 to 12Upper secondary 16+ to 19+
Further education 16 to 18Senior high school 15/16 to 17/18Lower secondary 11 to 15Lower secondary 12 to 16/17
Upper secondary 15 to 18Upper secondary 16/17 to 18-20

early years

Frameworks are typically structured around 'areas of learning' and cover a similar range—literacy, numeracy, personal development, physical development and creativity.

Sweden is distinctive in making a strong link between welfare and education and emphasising the relationship between the pre-school provider and parents.


primary and secondary

Each country's curriculum is structured around subjects. The subjects that they include are largely the same: mother tongue; mathematics; science; art/crafts; design and technology; civics and moral education; geography; history; home economics; ICT; music; modern foreign languages; physical education. Religious education is often taught through other subjects (e.g. civics). These countries also offer health and sex education and careers education. The four comparison countries place a greater emphasis on civics and moral education and modern foreign languages than does England.

England Canada—Ontario France   SingaporeSweden

upper secondary

The coverage of pupils' learning is determined by the qualification route chosen.

Through A-levels and the Diploma pupils are able to study a relatively narrow range of academic subjects or focus on a particular vocational area.

The high school programme is based on a credit system, where pupils must earn a total of 30 credits, 18 of which are compulsory and 12 are optional—spread across a wide range of subjects. At age 14/15 pupils focus on either the language or the technology branch of the curriculum.

Between 15 to 18 pupils must study French, mathematics and at least one foreign language. The Baccalaureate route taken by the pupil determines the remainder of their learning, though these qualifications take in a wide range of subjects.

Pupils aged 16 to 18 must study a general paper, mother tongue, 3-4 GCE A-level subjects and 1-2 GCE AO-level subjects. They also undertake interdisciplinary project work.

They also study the non-examination subjects of civics and moral education and physical education.

All pupils 16+ study a common foundation of eight subjects.

In addition they select from one of 17 nationally-determined programmes, 2 of which are academically-oriented (Natural Science, Social Science) and 15 of which are vocationally-oriented (e.g. The Arts; Business and Administration; Electrical Engineering; Health and Nursing), or an Apprenticeship.

SyllabusSchools must follow the Programme of Study for each subject. These set out subject content and attainment targets. Despite continued efforts to reduce the level of prescription contained in the Programmes of Study they remain relatively detailed.

Optional, more detailed plans—Schemes of Work—and case studies are also available as a resource for teachers.

A Curriculum Guideline for each subject states the required learning.

There are also non-statutory Course Profiles, which are specific to a subject, Grade/Year and type of course. These include more detailed learning outcomes.

Subject exemplars show teachers key features to look for when grading pupils work.

National Programmes for each subject set out programme content and the outcomes that pupils are expected to achieve at the end of each year and phase of their education. Syllabuses for each subject contain: general and subject-specific aims and objectives; learning outcomes; knowledge, skills and values; suggested teaching strategies, and suggested assessment methods. Relatively short subject syllabuses set a minimum teaching entitlement. They define the subject's general orientation and nature and the goals and targets to be achieved by a given Year.

Municipalities are responsible for the implementation of the curriculum. Each municipality must state how it intends to achieve the national goals for schools. Each school produces a related plan.

England Canada—Ontario France   SingaporeSweden
Time allocations Guidance onlyGuidance only Ministry sets out recommended annual and/or weekly number of teaching hours for each subject. Ministry sets out recommended weekly number of teaching hours for each subject. Ministry sets minimum teaching time for each subject.
TextbooksTextbooks are selected for classroom use by schools.

There are a small number of set texts at secondary level.

The Ministry produces an approved textbook list. The Ministry produces an approved textbook list. The Ministry produces an approved textbook list. Textbooks are selected for classroom use by schools.
CoverageIndependent schools and home educators are not required to follow the National Curriculum. Independent schools are not required to follow the curriculum, but home educators are encouraged to do so. Independent schools and home educators are required to follow guidelines on minimum entitlements. Independent schools and home educators are not required to follow the National Curriculum. Independent schools are required to broadly follow the curriculum.

Home schooling is linked to the local school and must abide by the same statutory regulations as 'regular' schools.

Developments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Since 2007 England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have each made reforms to their respective national curriculum. The reforms are similar—slimming down the prescribed syllabus and placing greater emphasis on addressing curriculum aims, cross-curriculum learning and pupils' development of learning and life skills. While England has only removed Key Stage 3 testing, elsewhere there has been a more concerted shift to teacher assessment. The reforms have been most radical in Northern Ireland.
Curriculum format Testing
WalesThe national curriculum remains subject-based. Syllabuses have been revised to identify the skills for each subject and the range of contexts, opportunities and activities through which these skills should be developed and applied.

Cross-curriculum learning is encouraged.

There are also revisions to the Foundation Phase (early years), skills development frameworks, personal and social education, careers education and religious education.

Wales abolished Key Stage testing in 2004. Pupils now sit a skills test in numeracy, literacy and problem-solving at the age of 10, which is backed-up by teacher assessments.
ScotlandThe new curriculum focuses teaching on helping pupils to become: successful learners; confident individuals; responsible citizens; effective contributors.

Subjects remain in place, but are presented as curriculum areas—including Expressive Arts, Health and Wellbeing, Languages, Mathematics, Religious and Moral Education, Sciences, Social Studies and Technologies.

Cross-curriculum learning is encouraged.

Courses focused on generic employability skills are also available.

An 'Assessment is for Learning' (AifL) development programme has been running since 2002. As part of this programme the previous system of National Tests (for pupils aged between 5 and 15) has been replaced by new online National Assessments intended to help teachers track pupils' progress.
Curriculum format Testing
Northern Ireland The curriculum is now set out as 'Areas of Learning' (e.g. Language and Literacy, Mathematics and Numeracy, The Arts, The Environment and Society).

Subjects are set out as 'strands' within these broader Areas of Learning.

The curriculum as delivered must help pupils develop as: individuals; contributors to society; contributors to the economy and the environment.

Cross-curriculum learning is particularly encouraged.

There is an explicit emphasis on the development of learning and life skills and capabilities across the curriculum.

For the primary curriculum, with the exception of English and Mathematics, the content outlined within each Area of Learning has been very significantly reduced to a minimum requirement. For the secondary curriculum the content requirements for each strand have been reduced more dramatically—to a single page.

Formal end of Key Stage assessment has been replaced by statutory annual teacher assessment of the cross-curricular skills of communication, using mathematics and using ICT.

Information taken from

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Prepared 2 April 2009