26 Feb 2018


Understanding The British Curriculum

It is a popular misconception in Kenya that the British curriculum or National Curriculum of England is a piece of cake; at least compared to our system (8-4-4- that is set to change) which was based off the curriculum.

The idea that the “British system” is the easy way out cannot be further from the truth as Frankie Gichuru who heads the Marketing Department and the student recruitment efforts at GEMS, Nairobi will tell you “Students who come to GEMS from the 8-4-4 system and topped national examinations (KCPE), need a lot of extra attention when they join, otherwise the transition can be very difficult”. However, it is not a burdensome system and focuses on quality of work rather than quantity.

The British curriculum is definitely the most popular among international schools worldwide. It is very well respected all over the world for its quality and focus on the wholesome development of the child.  The system is definitely ‘scholarly’ but balances the academic and pastoral life of students very well.








How does the British curriculum work?

There are 5 Key stages for ages 5 to 18

Key Stage Year Groups Age of Children
Primary            1     1,2,3        5 – 7
Primary            2     4,5,6        8 – 11
Secondary            3     7,8,9      12 -14
Secondary            4    10,11      15- 16
Secondary            5    12,13      17- 18

In Primary, the Core Subjects are English, Mathematics and Science

In addition to the core subjects, there is emphasis on development of other skills e.g leadership, IT, creativity, social etc. Students who go through this system ‘explore’ the world from a very young age and are very aware of not just their local surroundings but of global circumstances as well.

Students take progression tests (set by schools) before they advance to the next year. At Year 6 and 9, there are “Checkpoints’ (set by external examiners) where the students take tests whose results are analyzed by the respective exam bodies to ensure they are progressing according to international benchmarks.

At the end of Year 11 they take their IGCSEs (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), followed by AS (Advanced Subsidiary) at the end of year 12 and A (Advanced) level exams at Year 13. In some schools (like GEMS) students can opt for the BTEC Diploma (a career based qualification with emphasis on practical knowledge and skills e.g BTEC Sports) rather than A level exams at Key Stage 5.

In year 11, students take at least nine subjects which comes down to four at year 12 and at year 13 they can drop one and take a minimum of  three. This is because at the advanced (A) level they are required to have in-depth knowledge of the subjects they take.

While the general structure of the curriculum is the same, there are different programme and examination bodies; the most recognised being the Cambridge programme and Pearson’s Edexcel. These bodies are also tasked by the British Government to ensure that the schools all over the world that offer this curriculum meet the set standards.

What are the advantages of the British Curriculum over the Kenyan system? Kodek Mose, GEMS Nairobi’s Head of BTEC Programmes and Examination officer, summarizes these as:

“The British curriculum is skills based and emphasizes on knowledge application while the Kenyan system emphasizes on simply knowledge and ultimately exam success”

While there are many other differences, it is safe to say that ultimately, in the job market worldwide, an applicant who went through the British curriculum has an advantage over another who went through the local system (with the same qualifications) if for nothing else, their global view and practical approach to the work place.

In Kenya, there are about …… schools that offer the British Curriculum and GEMS is at the top of this list.

For more information about the British Curriculum and how GEMS delivers, call +254 708 989 000 Or email

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