The Curriculum in Wales

curriculum in wales header

In this section, you can find out about the key features of the National Curriculum in Wales, and where the national arts, literacy and numeracy fit in. You can also read about the Welsh Government’s plans to radically reform the curriculum from 2018. 


A system in transition

Education is at an exciting turning point in Wales. In March 2014, Professor Graham Donaldson was tasked with undertaking a fundamental review of the curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales. His report, Successful Futures, forms the basis of a fairly radical re-imagining of the future curriculum in Wales. 

The new curriculum, a curriculum for life

  • affirms four key purposes at the heart of the new curriculum which will support our children and young people to be:

ambitious, capable learners ready to learn throughout their lives

enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work

ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world

healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society

  • Identifies six Areas of Learning & Experience from ages 3-16 (including Expressive Arts)
  • Sets out three cross-curricular responsibilities (literacy, numeracy and digital competence)
  • Will develop a new assessment and evaluation framework that sets out progression reference points at ages 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16 with achievement outcomes for each point.

The new curriculum for Wales will be developed with pioneer schools across Wales with the aim of it being available to settings and schools by September 2018. You can read more about the Curriculum Reform here.


So what’s the current state of play?

In the meantime, this guidance refers to the present curriculum that requires all maintained schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum which:

  • promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society
  • prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life and
  • includes - in addition to the National Curriculum- Personal & Social Education (PSE), Religious Education and (for secondary pupils) sex and relationships education; Careers and the World of Work and Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship. 

The current National Curriculum orders were introduced in 2008 for learners aged 3-16 In Wales the school curriculum is currently organised into Foundation phase for 3-7 year olds followed by Key Stages 2, 3 and 4.


The Foundation Phase (the statutory curriculum for all 3-7 year olds in Wales)

Introduced in 2010, the Foundation Phase places a strong emphasis on play-based learning and has its own distinctive curriculum. Designed to encourage children to be creative and imaginative, at this stage, the curriculum provides opportunities for children to learn through directed play and first-hand experience. Activities aim to promote discovery and are practical and active in nature. Much importance is placed on using outdoor environments as a resource for children’s learning. There are seven Areas of Learning, one of which is Creative Development. This aims to foster children’s creative, expressive and observational skills through activities in art, craft, design, music and creative movement. Click here to read more about the Foundation Phase.


The National Curriculum (for 7 to 16 year olds)

The National Curriculum (NC) applies to all pupils aged 7 to 16 in maintained schools, unless they have been ‘disapplied’ due to learning needs. It is organised into three key stages and comprises core and non-core subjects. The table shows which subjects are core and non-core at each stage: 

Key Stage

Age range

Core subjects

Non-core subjects


7-11 years


Welsh (first language) Mathematics


Welsh (second language); Art and Design, Design and Technology, Geography, History, ICT, Modern Foreign Languages, Music, Physical Education, Religious Studies.


11-14 years


Welsh (first language) Mathematics


Welsh (second language); Art and Design, Design and Technology, Geography, History, ICT, Modern Foreign Languages, Music, Physical Education, Religious Studies.


Includes qualifications at GCSE /Level 2 and Entry level/ Level 1

14-16 years


Welsh (first language) Mathematics


All pupils continue to study Welsh, Physical Education and Religious Studies and now also work towards the Welsh Baccalaureate* Learners choose options from the other subjects for Key Stage 4 / GCSE.


*The Welsh Baccalaureate (or Welsh Bac) was introduced from September 2015 for all learners at Key Stage 4 and Sixth Form. The central focus is to provide an opportunity to develop essential and employability skills. It includes literacy, numeracy, Digital Literacy, Critical thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity & Innovation, Planning & Organisation and Personal Effectiveness. The Welsh Bac incorporates the Skills Challenge Certificate (equivalent to one GCSE) plus 5 more GCSEs – including Maths and English. The Welsh Bac will be one of the key performance indicators of schools from 2018.


The Skills Challenge Certificate consists of four components which all learners follow. You may find that this certificate opens up new opportunities for you to work with schools on arts projects that meet the various tasks and challenges below:

1. Individual Project – an independent, research-based activity that contributes 50% towards the core;

2. Enterprise and Employability Challenge - which develops enterprising skills and attributes and enhance employability;

3. Global Citizenship Challenge - which will require learners to understand and respond appropriately to a global issue and

4. Community Challenge - which will require learners to identify, develop and participate in opportunities that will benefit the local community.


The Curriculum Cymreig

There is a requirement for all subjects to deliver the Curriculum Cymreig – part of the curriculum that is special to Wales. Designed to reflect the history, geography and culture of Wales, the Curriculum Cymreig helps develop a sense of place and heritage. This emphasis on the Welsh dimension can be enhanced by schools working in partnership with Welsh artists and cultural organisations. You can read more about The Curriculum Cymreig.


The National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF)

The Welsh Government has made raising standards of literacy and numeracy in schools a priority and, from September 2013, the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) became a statutory curriculum requirement. Through the delivery of the National Curriculum, learners are expected to develop their literacy, numeracy and thinking skills and children aged 7-14 now have annual reading and numeracy tests usually at the beginning of May.


Where the Arts feature on the curriculum

The statutory entitlement outlined above means that Art and Design, Creative Writing, Dance, Drama and Music are part of every child's learning experience from 3 to 14.

Creative writing and Drama are included as part of Language, Literacy and Communication in the Foundation Phase, and as part of English and Welsh in the National Curriculum. Dance is included as part of PE in the National Curriculum.

Film and Media is not part of the statutory requirement, though is often included to enrich the curriculum and, in particular, cross-curricular projects. Film and Media can also be subject options at Key Stage 4 and 5.

There is no requirement for arts subjects to be integrated with other subjects. However, at Key Stage 2 many schools choose a cross curricular, thematic approach to learning and some teachers will naturally deploy arts approaches in their daily teaching. For example, a history topic might be explored using art and drama activities. Learners may be asked to reveal a historical character’s personality or motives through hot-seating techniques / re-enacting a scene or writing a diary entry for instance. 

Following the transition to secondary school at Key Stage 3, subjects are usually taught separately – although the emphasis on cross curricular work is increasing. Some schools may choose to occasionally 'collapse' the curriculum at Key Stage 3 and prepare cross curricular activities or concentrate on a specific subject (eg the arts / sport) for a specific period of time (e.g. for a day or week.). You may want to avoid contacting schools at particularly busy times of year - in the run up to tests in May for example. 

The inclusion of Expressive Arts as one of the six new Areas of Learning & Experience within the future curriculum promises to underline the importance of the arts as a key part of children’s education from 2018.