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The differences between the UK and Canadian curriculum

What are the differences between the UK and Canadian curriculum? This is a very common question we are asked here at Teach In. We’ve prepared this handy guide to the main differences (and similarities) in the UK and Canadian curriculum for anyone starting their overseas teaching adventure. Read on to find out more!

One of the key reasons we recruit from the Commonwealth Countries (Canada, New Zealand, Australia etc) to the UK, are the similarities in the curriculum. This reason, plus the fact that we are all English speaking countries, means that the UK Curriculum is easy for an Canadians to follow!

Schools in the UK follow the National Curriculum. This means there is a “National” standardised approach to teaching. The UK doesn’t have “provinces or boards” as we do in Canada (plus Canada is a huge country by comparison).

Once Teach In have found you your teaching interview, a good place to start your research on the UK National Curriculum is here. If you are starting out on a Teach In GPS (Guaranteed Teaching Scheme) or a long term contract, you will find the National Curriculum taught in every school.

As a new Canadian Teacher, you will have a mentor and ongoing support to help guide you through the National Curriculum. Most Canadian teachers get to grips with the UK curriculum easily and quickly. The jargon can be different but help is never far away!

When do children start school in the UK?

uk vs Australian curriculum In the UK, the first year of Primary School is Reception. However, it is not mandatory that children attend this year. They are mandated to attend school the year after their fifth birthday. So legally, the answer is age 5.

A big difference between Canada & the UK is that there is a “trend” in the UK for parents to send their child to school before this, at 4 years old. If you are teaching a “Reception” class in the UK, you could expect to be teaching children aged 4 & 5.

Reception class (Early Years Key Stage) children will be taught the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. You can find more information on this here. T

The feedback we receive from Canadians teaching in the UK is that UK children are a little ahead in their subject knowledge, as often they have started at age 4.

Primary Education (Key Stage 1 and 2)

Year 1 (Key Stage 1)

There is a big focus on Literacy & Numeracy in the mornings in UK Primary Schools, exactly the same as here in Australia – the children are taught English & Maths when they are awake and alert first thing! Year 1 students are aged 5 & 6 years old.

In the afternoons, other subjects such as; Art, Drama, History, Geography Science, RE, Design and Technology, Music, Computing, Languages, PE (including swimming) etc are also taught. Cross-curricular subjects can be taught too. Most schools will also teach PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education) and Citizenship.

Due to the multicultural make up of the UK, Religious Education can be very diverse, covering multi faiths. This may be quite different depending on where you are in Canada and you will learn lots about other cultures.

In Year 1 all children are required to sit the National Phonics Screening Test.

Year 2 (Key Stage 1)

Year 2 signals the end of “Infant” School (Year 1 & Year 2). Year 2 children are 6 or 7 years old.

The same subjects Australian schools teach are covered; English, Maths, Science, Design & Technology, Art, PE, RE, Languages, Computing, Music, History & Geography.

Children will sit standardised tests in English and Maths.

Year 3 (Key Stage 2)

Children move from the Infant to Junior Phase. Pupils are aged 7-8 years old. Subjects taught are the same as in Key Stage 1.

Year 4 (Key Stage 2)

Year 4 are “Juniors”. Pupils are 8-9 years old. Subjects taught are the same as in Key Stage 1.

Year 5 (Key Stage 2)

Year 5 are “Juniors”. Pupils are 9-10 years old. Subjects taught are the same as in Key Stage 1.

Year 6 (Key Stage 2)

Year 6 is the final year or Juniors in Primary School. Pupils are 10-11 years old.

In Year 6, students sit a standardised test in English and Maths.

Children complete nationwide testing in Year 1, at the end of Infants (Year 2, Key Stage 1) and Junior (Year 6, Key Stage 2). In Year 1 children sit the Phonics Screening and in Year 2 & Year 6, children sit their SATS. English and Maths are tested against the National Curriculum.

At the end of Year 6, children leave Primary School and start Secondary School (High School) In Year 7. Pupils are 11 years old.

Secondary Education (Key Stage 3 and 4)

Key Stage 3uk vs Australian curriculum

Year 7, 8 & 9 form Key Stage 3. Children are 11-14 years old.

Classes are taught in mixed ability form groups. You will need to differentiate and cater for children with Special Needs (Autism, Dyslexia etc), gifted and talented children, plus the middle range in your class.

The subjects taught are English, Maths, Science, Geography, History, MFL (normally French, Spanish or German). This is quite different to the LOTE languages learnt here in Australia. Computing, Music, Art, PE, Citizenship & Design + Technology are also taught. These are the compulsory National Curriculum subjects.

Sports are “winter” or “summer” themed. There is no AFL and cross country running, football, cricket, athletics, gymnastics, tennis, rounders & netball are all popular.

Schools must provide Sex Education and RE lessons, parents can opt their children out of these two subjects.

Key Stage 4

Children move onto Key Stage 4 in Year 10. KS4 is Year 10 & 11, the final years of Secondary School. Children are 14 & 15 years old.

During Key Stage 4 most pupils work towards national qualifications – usually GCSEs (General Certificates Secondary Education). These exams are a very important & influence pupils options to go onto further study, apprenticeships or join the world of work. The results are very important to Principals, parents, teachers and students alike.

The compulsory National Curriculum subjects are the ‘core’ and ‘foundation’ subjects.

Core subjects are:

  • English
  • Maths
  •  Science

Foundation subjects are:

  • Computing
  • Physical Education
  • Citizenship (Citizenship is similar to SOSE)

Schools must also offer at least one subject from each of these areas:

  • Arts
  • Design and Technology
  • Humanities
  • Modern Foreign Languages

Schools must also provide Sex Education and RE (optional).

To help you understand the GCSE framework, click here for a great “simple” tool.

Children can legally leave Secondary School at 16 years old. Students have the option to go to Key Stage 5 (6th Form or College) to study vocational courses, A Level or AS Levels.


Truly, UK schooling is very similar to life inside Canadian schools. Yes, there are differences, but you are bound to find common ground in your new country.

The education systems in the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada share some similarities due to historical ties, but there are also notable differences in terms of structure, curriculum, grading, and other aspects. Here are some key differences between the two systems:

  1. Structure:
    • UK: The UK education system is divided into four main stages: primary education (ages 4-11), secondary education (ages 11-16), further education (ages 16-18), and higher education (ages 18+). Students typically take their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams at the end of secondary education and can then choose to continue into further education or vocational training.
    • Canada: Canada’s education system varies by province, but it generally includes elementary or primary school (ages 6-12), followed by secondary or high school (ages 13-18), and then post-secondary education (ages 18+), which includes colleges and universities. The structure and curriculum can differ somewhat between provinces and territories.
  2. Curriculum:
    • UK: The UK’s national curriculum sets out the subjects and content that students are expected to study at each stage. Education is more centralized, with a standardized curriculum and exams, such as GCSEs and A-levels.
    • Canada: Canada’s education system is decentralized, with each province and territory having its own curriculum guidelines. This can lead to variations in what is taught and assessed across the country. Some provinces have standardized tests, while others rely more on continuous assessment.
  3. Grading and Evaluation:
    • UK: The UK often uses a letter grading system, with A* (highest) to U (ungraded) for GCSEs and A-levels. Grading is generally based on final exams and coursework.
    • Canada: Grading systems in Canada vary by province, but they typically use letter grades (A, B, C, etc.) or percentage marks. Evaluation methods can include a combination of exams, assignments, projects, and participation.
  4. University Degrees:
    • UK: In the UK, undergraduate degrees typically take three years (four in Scotland), and students usually specialize in a specific subject from the start. Bachelor’s degrees are usually awarded with honors, and there is less emphasis on general education courses.
    • Canada: Canadian undergraduate degrees usually take four years. There is often a broader focus on general education during the first year or two, followed by specialization in the chosen field of study. Honors degrees are also available, and co-op programs are common.

Teach In help many Aussie teachers transition into a new country and curriculum. Don’t be bamboozled, support is there from your school and your Teach In representative. Keep calm and carry on teaching!

uk vs Australian curriculum