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Key Stage 3 explained

By Atom | Jun 9, 2023, 9:39 AM

Schoolboy wearing uniform writing at a desk

If your child is transitioning from primary school to secondary school this autumn, you might be wondering what new subjects they'll be studying.

From Year 7 to Year 9 (the first three years of secondary education), your child will progress through Key Stage 3. Keep reading for a breakdown of the UK national curriculum and download free resources to help your child with their summer preparation.

Key Stage 3 explained: the national curriculum

State-funded schools are obliged to follow the national curriculum, while independent schools have more freedom over the subjects they teach. However, most schools closely adhere to the national curriculum and you can expect that the bulk of the subjects will remain the same.

  • English

  • Maths

  • Science (including biology, chemistry and physics, which might be taught as separate timetabled subjects)

  • History

  • Geography

  • Modern foreign languages (normally one or more of French, Spanish, German and Italian)

  • Design and technology (normally a combination of woodwork, graphic design, and cooking and nutrition)

  • Art and design

  • Music

  • Physical education (PE)

  • Computing

  • PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education, which includes topics on citizenship, relationships and sex education)

  • Religious education (RE)

  • Welsh (Welsh schools only)

What are the core subjects in secondary education?

English, maths and science are often referred to as core subjects. This is because they are compulsory subjects which your child must take when they progress to Key Stage 4 and take their GCSE exams.

Secondary schools often 'set' students in the core subjects. Setting (sometimes known as streaming) is a process where children are placed into different classes for the same subject, depending on their ability. Children who can successfully work at a faster pace will be placed into a higher set, whereas children who need more teacher support and time to understand concepts are placed in a lower set. Some schools use the results of CAT4 tests to set pupils.

What will my child learn in English in Key Stage 3?

English is a combination of English Language and English Literature.

English Language assesses students' reading, writing, speaking and listening skills while English Literature is the study of different genres of text (such as prose, poetry and drama), with an emphasis on critical analysis. The assessment framework covers four main areas:


Students are taught to develop an appreciation for reading, to understand increasingly challenging texts and to read critically. The texts studied include a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, including works from pre-1914 literature, contemporary literature, seminal world literature and two Shakespeare plays.


Your child will be taught to write accurately, fluently and efficiently and plan, draft, edit and proofread their work. Students learn how to write for a wide range of purposes and audiences, consider how their writing reflects these audiences and purposes, and improve their vocabulary, grammar, spelling, punctuation and structure.

Grammar and vocabulary

Children are taught how to consolidate and build on their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, including understanding the differences between spoken and written language and being able to confidently use linguistic and literary terminology.

Spoken English

Students learn how to give short speeches and presentations, participate in formal debates and how to improvise, rehearse and perform play scripts and poetry.

Free resource: English checklist

If your child has developed a confident grasp of English from Key Stage 2, they will be in a better position to succeed in Key Stage 3.

Give your child the best chance of success by helping them consolidate their knowledge this summer with the support of our free KS2 English checklist.

Key Stage 2 English checklist

What will my child learn in maths in Key Stage 3?

The aim of maths at Key Stage 3 is to help students become fluent in the fundamentals of maths, reason mathematically and solve problems both with and without a calculator.

There are six main areas covered in maths at Key Stage 3:


Your child will learn how to efficiently and successfully use decimals, positive and negative integers, fractions, prime numbers, factors, percentages and units of mass, length, time and money.


Pupils are introduced to algebra in Key Stage 3. This includes using and interpreting algebraic notation, simplifying and manipulating algebraic expressions, using linear and quadratic graphs and recognising arithmetic sequences.

Ratio, proportion and rates of change

Your child will be taught how to change freely between related standard units, use scale factors, diagrams and maps, express quantities as fractions, use ratios, solve problems involving percentage change and direct or inverse proportion, and use compound units (e.g. speed, pricing and density) to solve problems.

Geometry and measures

Pupils are taught how to apply formulae to calculate and solve problems, draw and measure line segments and angles, understand the properties of triangles, use Pythagoras' Theorem, and solve 3D problems.


Pupils are taught how to record, describe and analyse using probability experiments, use tables, grids and Venn diagrams, and understand single and combined events (such as equally likely and mutually exclusive outcomes).


Your child will be taught the averages (mean, mode, median and range), how to construct and interpret tables, interpret charts and diagrams and describe simple mathematical relationships between two variables.

Free resource: maths checklist

Help your child get ahead for Key Stage 3 maths by ensuring they have a complete understanding of the content covered in Key Stage 2.

Download our free KS2 maths checklist so your child can identify their strengths and any areas that might need more work.

Key Stage 2 maths checklist

What will my child learn in science in Key Stage 3?

The national curriculum for science covers the three key sciences of biology, chemistry and physics. Your child may see these as separate subjects on their timetable.


From Years 7 to 9, your child will learn about:

  • The body, including cells and organisation, skeletal and muscular systems, gas exchange, cellular respiration and inheritance (chromosomes, DNA and genes)

  • Human reproduction, including male and female reproductive systems, the menstrual cycle and the process of fertilisation to birth

  • Plants, including flower structure, pollination, fertilisation and photosynthesis

  • Relationships in an ecosystem, including food webs and how organisms affect and are affected by their environment


Chemistry at Key Stage 3 includes the study of:

  • Matter, including the different states, atoms, elements and compounds

  • Pure and impure substances, including techniques for separating mixtures

  • Chemical reactions and energetics

  • The Periodic Table, including patterns and properties

  • Materials, including metals and carbon

  • Earth and the atmosphere, including the composition and structure of the Earth, the rock and carbon cycles and the composition of the atmosphere


In Key Stage 3 Physics, children will study:

  • Fuels, including calculating fuel uses and costs in a domestic context

  • Energy changes and transfers, including changes in systems and energy in matter

  • Motion and forces

  • Pressure in fluids

  • Observed waves, including sound waves, energy and light waves

  • Electricity, including current and static electricity

  • Magnetism

  • Physical changes in matter

  • Particle model

  • Space physics

Free resource: science checklist

Help your child get ready for Year 7 with our free KS2 science checklist. Your child can check off the content they know and identify which topics need more revision before secondary school.

Key Stage 3 science checklist

How Atom can help

We know that leaving primary school can be daunting for both children and their parents. While there will be a noticeable change in your child's schoolwork as they move between key stages, there are plenty of ways your child can prepare for a flying start to the school year.

Webinar: using the summer holidays to prepare for Year 7

Parent webinar: using the summer holiday to prepare for Year 7

Looking for more guidance on identifying and targeting your child's learning gaps? Find out how to support your child with secondary school preparation this summer and watch a recording of our latest webinar for free.

Atom Nucleus foundation tests

A Year 6 science foundation test on Atom Nucleus

Atom has Year 6 foundation tests in English, maths and science to assess your child's understanding of the Key Stage 2 curriculum.

You'll get a full breakdown of the results on your parent dashboard so you can check your child's ability and identify areas that might need more revision.

Help your child get ready for Key Stage 3 – start your 5-day free trial of Atom Nucleus today.

5 day free trial: See what Atom can do for your child. Register today

Parent WhatsApp groups

If your child is currently in Year 6, why not join our Year 6 WhatsApp group? You'll get access to free resources to help your child continue to excel throughout Year 6, plus Education Expert advice on preparing for SATs and the transition to secondary school.

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