The National Curriculum was introduced into England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a nationwide curriculum for primary and secondary state schools following the Education Reform Act (1988).
It does not a mandatory framework for independent or private schools. Private schools are free to choose their own curriculum and examinations and many have opted for the IGCSE which is not tied to the National Curriculum.
As well as private schools, academies and free schools may also set their own curricula.
Scotland has its own national curriculum.
The purpose of the National Curriculum has been to standardise the content taught across schools to enable assessment, which in turn enabled the compilation of league tables detailing the assessment statistics for each school.
The idea has been to raise educational standards by being able to see where there are weaknesses.
These league tables, together with the provision to parents of some degree of choice in assignment of the school for their child (also legislated in the same act) was also intended to encourage a free market by allowing parents to choose schools based on their measured ability to teach the National Curriculum.
Assessments are carried out at three ages: seven (school year 2, at the end of Key Stage 1), eleven (Year 6, the end of Key Stage 2) and fourteen (Year 9, the end of Key Stage 3). Some aspects of subjects are teacher-assessed, whilst others involve sitting an examination paper.
The results are considered when school and LEA performance league tables are being compiled, but they do not lead to any formal qualification for the candidates taking them.
The study of most subjects under the National Curriculum would usually culminate in the sitting of GCSE exams at the end of Key Stage 4.