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Types of curriculum

Types of curriculum

Most international schools around the world use either the English National Curriculum or the International Baccalaureate as the basis for developing their own particular curriculum, but there is tremendous variation, and American models are also very important. This means that if parents need to move their children to another international school, perhaps in another country, they are likely to discover a similar range of curricula being taught in those schools. It’s often the case that a given international school will have more in common with international schools in other countries than with those in the same city.


Most schools will also adapt the curriculum to reflect the local customs and culture. So geography, art and music might all use the local place and culture to provide a stimulus or background to the planned topics – and this might be the case in many other subjects as well. In the Middle East, Arabic studies and Arabic language may well form part of the curriculum offered in the school. Literacy and numeracy are important basic subjects, and are taught in the primary sections of international schools in ways that will usually seem quite familiar to most parents.


The English National Curriculum

This is a popular model used to provide a curriculum structure from ages 5 to 18. It is broken down into five key stages:

Key Stage 1:  Years 1 and 2 – for pupils aged 5–7.

Key Stage 2: Years 3 to 6 – for pupils aged 7–11.

Key Stage 3: Years 7 to 9 – for pupils aged 11–14.

Key Stage 4: Years 10 and 11 – for pupils aged 14–16.

Key Stage 5 (Sixth form) – Years 12 and 13 – for pupils aged 16–18. The use of the term ‘Key Stage 5’ is not universal, as it is not a compulsory phase of education in the English system in the same way as the earlier phases.

Generally schools that use the English National Curriculum employ staff who have experience of this platform for learning. However there are many experienced teachers from other countries who are very adept at working with a variety of curricula.

The American school curriculum

Unlike the UK, there is no central or national curriculum in the US, and each state develops its own policy in this area. However there are common principles and standards across the US education system, which tend to emphasize a broader, less specialised education for longer than some other educational systems where children make defining choices at younger ages. This is why American international schools will often follow the more broadly based subject approach of the IB programmes described below. The American system uses the description Kindergarten to Twelfth grade (K–12) to identify the primary and secondary years in a school. The US shares this way of describing the phases of education with both Canada and Australia.


The International Baccalaureate (IB)

This international curriculum programme aims to develop the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, and experiences that young students need to equip them for successful lives in an increasingly globalised world. The intention is to build an international context for learning, helping students to understand a range of different languages, cultures and customs.

It is divided into three sections:

Primary Years Programme – PYP (3–12 years)
This is made up of three elements: the written curriculum, which explains what PYP students will learn, the taught curriculum, which sets out how the subject could be taught, and the assessed curriculum, which details the principles and practice of effective assessment for pupils of primary age. 

Middle Years Programme – MYP (11–16)
The MYP curriculum framework is made up of eight subject groups, providing a broad and balanced education for young people. The aim is to inspire pupils to be active learners, and develop a range of skills and knowledge to help them adapt to the world they find themselves living and working in.

The MYP requires at least 50 hours of teaching time for each subject group in each year, and pupils are usually involved in a project in the local community towards the end of the programme.

IB Diploma Programme (16–19 years)
The IB requires students to take courses in six subjects, three at higher level and three at lower level. Students are also required to take a course in the theory of knowledge, to write a long essay and to undertake some community service. The Diploma is accepted for University entrance in many countries including the UK and the US.

For more information about assessment and how classes are organised in international schools, see the articles Types of assessment and Organisation of classes.

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