Abingdon’s academic curriculum is founded on well established principles of breadth and challenge. Our pupils study a broad range of subjects up to Third Year (Year 9) and then follow a core of 6 or 7 GCSEs combined with 3 or 4 optional subjects, making a total of 10 GCSEs for most pupils.

In Sixth Form, we offer A Level courses in 23-25 subjects and pupils begin with studying four of these in the Lower Sixth, with most choosing to drop to three.

Alongside the above we also have a programme of Personal Development Education (PDE) – often also known as PSHCE or General Studies – which runs throughout the school. Beyond the curriculum, there are myriad opportunities for students to be extended academically, for example via the vast array of Challenges, Olympiads and Competitions that they enter as well as in such things as the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) which a number of students complete during their Sixth Form.

There are also many internal opportunities for students to extend themselves in their subjects which don’t necessarily end in awards, such as our plethora of magazines (The MartletWords & ThatPolyglotAxiomTimeline) and our science ambassador programme.

Our aim throughout the school is to promote the life of the mind and encourage in our pupils a genuine and life-long enjoyment of academic pursuits, whatever they may go on to do in their careers. We encourage students to be inquisitive, to challenge and to be increasingly independent in their approach to study.

We want our students to engage readily in intellectual debate, to be creative in their approaches and to have a “What’s next?” attitude to learning.

Lower School (National Curriculum Years 7 & 8)

Around 65 pupils join the Lower School for the First and Second Year curriculum. They are split into three classes and are taught in those classes for all their subjects except the practical arts where they are in four smaller groups of around 16 and Maths which has four sets in the Second Year. They are usually taught one of their subjects by their tutor and several of their teachers will teach them for both years in Lower School.

The curriculum in Lower School is very broad so pupils are exposed to a wide range of subjects before they begin to narrow them down for the Middle School years. Alongside English and Maths, children study the humanities (History, Geography, RS), the sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics), all four of the practical arts (Art, DT, Drama, Music), Computing and Latin. Additionally, in the First Year, pupils take a four week course in Linguistics and then study German followed by French for the rest of the year; they then choose one of these languages to continue with in Second Year. Pupils also follow PE and Sports programmes.

The emphasis in Lower School is on exploration and excitement – we want to see our students enjoying their learning free from the constraints of public examinations. The curriculum therefore has an academic rigour but also plenty of opportunity to have fun, undertake individual research and be creative.

We produce an annually-updated document containing detailed descriptions of what each subject covers during Lower School. This can be found here.

Middle School (National Curriculum Years 9-11)

Lower School pupils move into the Third Year and follow the 3d Year Curriculum. They are joined by around 110 students from other schools (including Abingdon Prep School).

These pupils then move into Fourth and Fifth Year and follow GCSE or iGCSE specifications, along with some non-examined subjects, such as PSHCE and PE.

Third Year:

Those coming up from Lower School follow a broad curriculum which is designed to give them a very sound grounding in all of the subjects they might take onto GCSE. Given that the 190 students who make up the Third Year usually come from around 40 different schools and via a number of different routes (CE, Scholarship, 13+, Abingdon Prep, Lower School), a key element of the Third Year is bringing everyone up to the same level of knowledge and skills as well as establishing and consolidating strong work practices so the students can begin their GCSE courses with confidence.

Students study a Core of subjects comprising English, Maths, Science (taught separately as Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Humanities (History, Geography, Philosophy & Theology), Art, Product Design and Engineering, Computing and either French or German. In addition to this Core, students choose two options from Latin, Ancient History, Ancient Greek, Drama, Music, ab initio French/German/Spanish/Mandarin. Alongside these subjects, PE, Sports, Career Guidance and PSHCE programmes are also followed.

Fourth and Fifth Years:

The great majority of students follow GCSE courses in ten subjects. The Compulsory Core of these comprise English, English Literature, Maths, a modern European Language and the three sciences. Students choose whether they wish to take the sciences as separate subjects or as the double award qualification; if they choose the latter then they will also take either History or Geography as part of their Core.

In addition to studying these subjects, students choose 3 or 4 options from a list of 16, all of which they will have had the chance to experience in the Third Year. Some subjects will insist that pupils studied it in the Third Year to be able to access the GCSE (e.g. MFL, Latin, Greek) whereas others are happy to have children start a GCSE course without having had the Third Year experience (e.g. Ancient History, Drama).

In addition to their GCSEs, students continue to follow courses in PE, Sport, PSHCE and Career Guidance.

Historically, the vast majority of Fifth Years stay on at Abingdon for the Sixth Form. There is a minimum GCSE requirement for Sixth Form entry which most students meet easily. The rationale for this ‘Sixth Form Bar’ is in the section below.

We produce an annually-updated document containing detailed descriptions of what each subject covers during the Middle School. This can be found here.

Entry to the Sixth Form

Abingdon has operated a minimum GCSE requirement for Sixth Form entry for many years and we use this ‘bar’ as a way of indicating which students are likely to thrive in our Sixth Form. When we accept a candidate for entry into Abingdon at First, Third or Fourth Year, it is with the expectation that they will develop during their time with us and continue to the Sixth Form. However, making this judgement at such an early stage is not a precise science and each year a very few do not make the progress that we might have hoped; hence we use the ‘pause’ between GCSE and Sixth Form to make a reassessment. We do, of course, track students carefully over their time with us and communicate with parents and pupils during the Middle School if we feel they may not be likely to meet that minimum GCSE standard. We also offer lots of support and intervention for this group of students.

When students do not pass the bar, it is likely that they will not be invited back to join Abingdon’s Sixth Form. This is because we tackle the A Level material in a fast-paced and demanding way, expecting Sixth Formers to show a high level of self-motivation and discipline coupled with strong ability. This approach does not tend to suit those who have found reaching our GCSE bar a challenge, even after receiving additional teaching and support.

Our requirements reflect the 2020 national changes to GCSE grading.  Students will require an overall average of a 6 (with a B grade, which is equal to a 6, for any subject still using grades) and a minimum of a 7 to begin A Level courses in that subject (with an 8 in Maths required for those wishing to start with Further Maths A Level).

With a GCSE A*/A percentage consistently in the 80s, the vast majority of our students will achieve the required average of a 6 (especially as a less than ‘6’ performance in one subject can be compensated for by a ‘7+’ achievement in another).

For subjects that do not have a GCSE equivalent in Abingdon’s curriculum, we would look for strength in subjects with similar skills to judge if a student is likely to prosper in it. For example, in Economics it is useful to have mathematical and essay writing skills. For Politics, aptitudes for History and English probably offer the best guides. Philosophy needs the kind of thinking and writing that one sees in Religious Studies and other humanities subjects but also benefits from the rigour of the mathematically gifted.

Sixth Form

The great majority of students continue from 5th Year into Sixth Form and are joined by a number of students from other schools. They follow A Level courses, some of which are currently in classes with students from St Helen and St Katharine School.

Abingdon’s Sixth Form is where students can really begin to fly in their intellectual pursuits, choosing the four subjects that really motivate them and giving them the opportunity to study them in much greater depth than GCSE courses have been able to do. Students develop extended knowledge and subject skills, including the ability to pursue topics independently, and thus give themselves very strong grounding for university study, which is what the great majority of Abingdonians go off to do at the end of their time with us.

All Sixth Formers begin with four subjects (five if pursuing Further Maths) and the majority of them drop down to three (or four) for the Upper Sixth, though they may continue with all of their subjects if they wish to. A good number also choose to make submissions for the Extended Project Qualification and it is often possible to begin studying an MFL such as Spanish or Italian ab initio to GCSE. Some subjects are currently taught in mixed classes with students from St Helen and St Katharine: Drama (taught jointly), Politics (taught at SHSK), Economics (taught at Abingdon), Product Design and Engineering (taught at Abingdon).

In the Sixth Form students are also able to balance the demands and rigours of intensive A Level courses with all that Abingdon has to offer in the Other Half. This encourages the pursuit and development of individual excellence aimed at maximising each student’s potential.

The curriculum includes a strong PDE (Personal Development), Career Guidance and tutorial programme with the aim of offering every individual every opportunity to consider issues beyond the academic. The universities application process is an equally vital element of this curriculum, where support and guidance for both parents and students are key and, whilst the focus tends to be on UCAS applications to UK universities, we also support applications to overseas institutions.

Large numbers of students tend to combine the sciences and arts in their subjects. This, along with the style of teaching at Abingdon as well as the range of opportunities open to students, has ensured that the concept of academic excellence has meant much more than academic rigour.

We produce an annually-updated document containing detailed descriptions of what each subject covers during the Upper School. This can be found here.

Curriculum Downloads

You can download the School’s main curriculum documents here in PDF format. These are updated during the course of the year.

For entry into the Sixth Form


For entry to Fourth Year




For entry to Third Year

Letter to 2nd Year parents explaining preferences for 3rd Year



For entry to the Lower School