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The National Curriculum

All schoolchildren up to the age of 16 in state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland study the National Curriculum which is organised into four key stages:

Key Stage 1, age 5 - 7;

Key Stage 2, age 7 - 11;

Key Stage 3, age 11 - 14;

Key Stage 4, age 14 - 16.

Assessment at Key Stage 4 is by means of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). In Scotland, the curriculum for pupils aged 5 - 14 is similar, but pupils aged 14 - 16 study subjects at Standard Grade.

Science is a core subject in the National Curriculum, together with English and Mathematics, and it is studied by pupils at all key stages. Less than 10 per cent of the science content of the National Curriculum is Earth Science, and most of it is delivered through a teaching section on 'Materials and their Properties’ (which contains mainly chemistry topics). Geological topics may also feature as exemplars in 'Experimental and Investigative Science', which offers scope for field investigations. Science programmes of study are required to demonstrate the relevance of science in everyday life and the application of science, offering further scope for geological exemplars. Additional Earth Science topics are present in Geography, which is included in the National Curriculum up to Key Stage 3 and is an optional GCSE course for 14 – 16 year olds.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, all pupils can complete Key Stage 4 by taking a GCSE in core science. The large majority then take extra science either as ‘additional science’, ‘applied science’ or through individual science subjects leading to GCSE awards in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. There is also a GCSE Science: Geology course, the Earth Science content of which extends well beyond that in the National Curriculum. The GCSE Science: Geology syllabus is administered by the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC).

In Scotland, Standard Grade subjects include Science, Physics, Chemistry and Biology and there are also short courses in Geology. 

School/College Education, post 16


In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, academic courses post 16 leading to General Certificate of Education Advanced level (GCE A level) qualifications are available in a wide range of subjects, including Geology. Advanced Subsidiary (AS) courses are also available, equal in weight to half an A-level. A/AS Geology syllabuses are currently offered by the OCR and WJEC examining boards.

In Scotland, the main post 16 academic qualification is Higher Grade, and Geology is included among the subjects offered.

Advanced level and Higher Grade, along with General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), equivalent to two A-levels, and Scottish National Vocational Qualifications, are used as an entry qualification for university education.