Overview of the Northern Ireland Curriculum

The Northern Ireland Curriculum was introduced in 2007 and covers all 12 years of compulsory education.

Some of its key features include the following:

  • It focuses on the learning process as well as the outcomes of education.
  • Schools and teachers have more flexibility to decide the topics and approaches that best suit their pupils; ‘the curriculum’ no longer implies a mandatory list of subject content that everyone must cover.
  • It gives equal emphasis to knowledge, understanding and skills – so while pupils are acquiring knowledge and skills, they also have opportunities to apply their learning practically.

The education system in Northern Ireland begins statutory education when a child is aged 4. All children must begin school in the September following their 4th birthday.

There are five compulsory key stages.

Stage Ages Years
Pre-School (not compulsory) 3 - 4 For children in the year before they start Year 1
Foundation Stage 4 - 6 Years 1 & 2
Key Stage 1 6 - 8 Years 3 & 4
Key Stage 2 8 - 11 Years 5, 6 & 7
Key Stage 3 11 - 14 Years 8, 9 & 10
Key Stage 4 14 - 16 Years 11 & 12

You can select one of the stages above for a relevant overview and Big Picture of the Curriculum.

Alternatively, for full details of the curriculum for primary schools, see The Northern Ireland Curriculum: Primary.

For full details of the curriculum for Key Stage 3, see The Statutory Curriculum at Key Stage 3: Rationale and Detail.

You can also view the key legislation behind the curriculum (statutory rule 46, 2007) at The Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 and other statutory documents in the Legislation and Circulars section.