Do Private Schools Follow the National Curriculum?

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Private schooling is often also called independent, preparatory, or even surprisingly public schooling. Private schools are known to do things a little differently to state and government education. Pupils who attend private school, pay fees for the purpose of a more well-resourced and supported education. State schools, on the other hand, do not require a fee in order to attend. State schools are controlled and funded by the government. Since major decisions are decided and implemented by the government, all state school teach the same curriculum. This would be the national curriculum, which in the UK is split into four key stages. But what about private schools? Do they follow this same curriculum?

By law, private schools have the right to choose which curriculum they follow. Apart from the national curriculum, they may instead decide on an international qualification as an alternative or an addition. For example, in addition to providing A-Levels in a subject, some private schools school now also offer a BTEC or IB Diploma. Furthermore, as an alternative to GCSEs a school may also offer IGCSEs in a range of subjects.

Continue reading this article in order to find out more about private school curriculums and how they may differ to the national, state curriculum. What is the national curriculum? What curriculum do private schools use? Why might they use a different curriculum? Find out by reading to the end.

Do Private Schools Have To Follow The National Curriculum?

Private schools are not legally obligated to follow the national curriculum. Instead, they are all allowed to decide upon their own preferred curriculum. This means they can choose to follow the national curriculum, as all state schools do, or they can pick a different curriculum.

All private schools are routinely inspected and monitored. This is to ensure that adequate and acceptable care and education levels are being maintained. If the curriculum of the private school does not meet this requirement, it will have to change to a more acceptable curriculum. When this inspection is being conducted, the private school’s curriculum will not be directly compared to the national one.

What Curriculum Do Private Schools Choose?

As they have the authority to decide their own curriculum, private schools have a much wider range of qualifications open to them – more than state school do. This means they may choose between the national curriculum and other curriculums.

Though given the choice, most private schools in the UK do opt with teaching the national curriculum or something very similar until the final exams written at the end of Year 11.

In England this will mean a curriculum leading up to the national final IGCSE or GCSE exams. In Scotland, this may mean a curriculum leading to writing the National 5 exams at the end of year 11. However, in Scotland many independent schools do not opt for the national curriculum, leading up to Nat 5s and instead teach their students in preparation for IGCSE or GCSE exams.

What is the National Curriculum?

In the UK, the national curriculum consists of key stages – 4 of them. The key stage of a pupil will usually depend on their age and school year.

For pupils aged between 3 and 4 years old, they have not yet begun the official curriculum as they are in their ‘Early Years’. They will not undergo any assessment during this age and stage.

Similarly, for pupils aged 4 to 5 years old, they are also in their ‘Early Years’. They will be attending reception and will experience their first assessments. These assessments will test very basic understanding of communication, language, literacy and maths.

Once pupils are between ages 5 and 6, they will now be in Year 1. This means they have begun Key Stage 1 (often shortened to KS1). All pupils will undergo a phonics screening check during this year.

In Year 2, pupils will be between 6 and 7 years old. This is still included in Key Stage 1. At the end of the year, they will be finished Key Stage 1 and will write National Tests in English reading and maths. They will also likely do teacher assessments in English reading and writing, maths and science.

Key Stage 2 (KS2) includes and is taught through Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6. This is from when pupils are between ages 7 and 8 until they turn 10 or 11. Pupils will do a compulsory multiplication tables check in Year 4, when they are 8 to 9 years old. Then, they will write national tests in Year 6 on grammar, punctuation and spelling, English reading and maths.

Pupils will then begin Key Stage 3 in Year 7 and finish at the end of Year 9. This is from when they’re 11 until they are 14 years old. They are not required to write any assessments or national tests throughout this Key Stage and these years.

Finally, during Year 10 and Year 11, when pupils are 14 to 15 years old until they are 15 to 16 years old, they will be in Key Stage 4. Some students write their final GCSE exams in Year 10, while most children will take their GCSEs or other national exam at the end of Year 11.

Find out the specifics on the UK Government website here.

What Other Curriculums Do Private Schools Follow?

During early years – which may include Reception and Primary School, Private schools generally follow a curriculum very similar to the national curriculum.

However, as official qualifications begin being introduced, usually in Year 10, some private schools branch out a little bit. For example, in England all state schools will offer only GCSEs. More and more private schools are now beginning to offer GCSEs in most subjects but also the option of taking an international GCSE, known as IGCSE. Private schools generally also offer greater subject choice. Find out more about the differences between GCSEs and IGCSEs on our website here.

In the final two years of high school, in addition to A-Levels, or even as a substitute to them, a few private schools offer the IB Diploma or BTECs. Independent schools in Scotland many choose to offer one or both of these two or A-Levels in replacement of Highers and Advanced Highers.

Do Private Schools Use a Different Curriculum for A-Levels?

At the end of their GCSEs or IGCSEs pupils begin to home in on their interests and areas of pursuit. They pick fewer subjects and really focus on a particular, or few particular, fields of study.

Private schools aim to fully support a pupil through their desired path and help them to achieve their ideal future in higher education. In order to do this, they may offer a wider range of curriculums. This allows a pupil to have the choice of broadening their learning or narrowing and intensifying it.

For example, as most state schools do, private schools will also most likely offer an A-Level in a subject. But in addition to this, private schools may provide pupils with the choice of a different type of qualification, such as an IB Diploma or a BTEC.

These alternative qualifications will require different curriculums. This may help a pupil more easily achieve their future aspirations. Other curriculums might incorporate additional useful experience or content.

Also included as private schools, are Sixth Form colleges. These are just for students’ last two years of high school. Find tips on preparing for Sixth Form colleges on our website here.

How Do Private Schools Tailor Their Curriculum?

Private schools require pupils’ parents to pay a fee, that is often very steep, in order to attend. This means private schools are expected to be more facilitating than state schools.

During a student’s early school years, before they begin their GCSEs, a private school may provide resources to allow pupils to broaden and widen their interests, such as in music or arts, which they may otherwise be unable to do at a state school.

As students get older, they start deciding what they would like to do in the future – private schools can help encourage this. Since private schools are not subject to strict curriculum guidelines decided by the government, they are able to focus their teaching and education on areas that they consider more important.

Is a Different Curriculum Beneficial?

Depending on a pupil’s aspirations for the future, a different curriculum may be more beneficial than the UKs national curriculum. Very few universities will refuse an applicant if they have different qualifications to the ones most candidates have, as long as the entry requirements are met.

However, the selection board may be more familiar with the national board of the country. Also, a different curriculum may help prepare a pupil for the way of life at a certain type of university. For example, the transition from doing A-Levels to doing a liberal arts degree is a little more difficult than from doing an IB Diploma to a liberal arts degree.

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