Curriculum Vital

The new National Curriculum in England
Changes to the Key Stage 4 physics programme of study

Physics (noun)the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. Physics is the most fundamental science subject taught at school and areas include mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, astrophysics and particle physics.

In an increasingly technological world, it is more important than ever for schools to equipment students with an understanding of the principles of physics. A significant proportion of the GCSE Physics curriculum focuses on the medical, industrial and commercial uses of such principles, while also touching on awe-inspiring subjects such as space and the structure of the atom.


The principle of conservation of energy is one of the most fundamental in all of physics. Pupils learn about this and also about energy transfer within a system; this could be anything from an ice-cream melting to the splitting of an atom in a nuclear reactor. This area of the physics curriculum gives students the opportunity to practice simple calculations to determine work done and transfer of internal energy.


  • Changes in energy within a system
  • Power as the rate of transfer of energy
  • Conservation of energy and dissipation
  • Calculating energy efficiency
  • Renewable and non-renewable energy resources

Forces and Motion

The concept of motions and forces is introduced in KS2, described as 'pushes and pulls'. In GCSE, new terminology is introduced (e.g.: velocity, momentum, weight) and more calculations are required, including rearranging simple equations.


  • Forces and fields; electrostatic, magnetic, gravitational
  • Forces as vectors
  • Calculating work done
  • Pressure in fluids and in the atmosphere
  • Speed, including the speed of sound
  • Graphs to represent motion
  • Acceleration and Newton's First Law
  • Weight and the gravitational force
  • Decelerations and braking distance

Wave Motion

Building on understanding of light, sound and pressure from KS3, pupils are required to understand further properties of waves and manipulate simple wave equations. The introduction of the electromagnetic spectrum allows students to discover the true nature of light. Students are expected to calculate some properties of light; speed, frequency and wavelength. There will be an emphasis on the practical applications of sound waves, such as in medical physics.


  • Amplitude, wavelength and frequency of waves
  • Transverse and longitudinal waves
  • The electromagnetic spectrum and its properties
  • Velocities between different media, absorption, reflection and refraction
  • Production and detection of waves
  • Uses and dangers of the electromagnetic spectrum


In KS4, students are expected to become more confident making circuit measurements and calculations. There are many new quantitative definitions: for resistance, power and charge, and students are expected to be able to interpret graphs. There is also emphasis on the practical; students learn about the a.c. supply, how to stay safe when using the mains and may be allowed to disassemble a plug.


  • Calculating resistance in a circuit
  • Graphs for resistance, current and p.d.
  • Definition of charge as product of current and time
  • Adding resistances in circuit diagrams
  • Calculating power transfer
  • The domestic a.c. supply, live, neutral, earth and electrical safety

Magnetism and Electromagnetism

Students are introduced to the important idea that electricity and magnetism are deeply connected. Through the study of step-up and step-down transformers on the National Grid, the industrial importance of electromagnetism is emphasised.


  • Magnetic fields, including that of the Earth
  • Magnetic effects of currents, solenoids
  • The National Grid

The Structure of Matter

Some new concepts in thermodynamics are introduced in this unit, including latent heat and specific heat capacity. Students must be able to complete some calculations using these new concepts. The familiar models for particles in solids, liquids and gases are developed, with phase changes described in terms of motion of particles.


  • Models of atoms in solids, liquids and gases
  • Reversible phase changes
  • Specific heat capacity and latent heat
  • Pressure and temperature of gas at a constant volume

Atomic Structure

This content-heavy unit goes inside the atom, expanding terminology and requiring more complicated equations to be solved.  While previously the terms ‘atom’, ‘molecule’ and ‘particle’ were often interchangeable, the words take on more precise meanings in this unit. Radioactive decay is studied in detail and some difficult mathematics is needed; particularly when calculating half-lives. The process behind nuclear power is explained and the uses and dangers of radiation are discussed.


  • History of the nuclear model
  • Nuclei, atoms and molecules
  • Protons, neutrons and isotopes
  • Ionisation
  • Alpha, beta and gamma decay and equations
  • Radioactivity, half-lives, irradiation, uses and risks
  • Fission and Fusion

Space Physics

In this unit, students learn about how orbital motion and the importance of gravity in holding the solar system together. The scale of space should be explained and in line with fascinating current research; the birth and evolution of the universe are touched upon.

Sub topics:

  • Orbital motion
  • The main features of the solar system
  • History of the universe

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