Planning for Key Stage 4

In Practice

What do maintained schools have to teach at Key Stage 4?

Computing is a core subject from Key Stage 1-4 in the same way English, Maths, Science and PE.

There is much debate in schools about what the Programmes of Study require at Key Stage 4. For example, if learners don’t select a Computing qualification at Key Stage 4, are they required to cover the statements in the Programmes of Study? Yet, it is accepted that all learners in Key Stage 4 should undertake a PE lesson each week, even if learners aren’t studying it as a qualification.

Ofsted currently have no plans to publish guidance on this at this time. However, from discussions with the Department for Education they said:

"All pupils in maintained schools must study the Computing Programmes of study at KS4. Some pupils may cover this content though studying for a relevant qualification such as GCSE Computer Science; or schools may schedule other teaching time to cover the KS4 curriculum requirements.”

Key Stage 4

All pupils must have the opportunity to study aspects of information technology and computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or to a professional career.

All pupils should be taught to:

  • Develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology.
  • Develop and apply their analytic, problem-solving, design, and computational thinking skills.
  • Understand how changes in technology affect safety, including new ways to protect their online privacy and identity, and how to report a range of concerns.

Document Source

Based on conversations with the Department for Education, it is suggested that maintained schools, where it has been agreed that learners will not be entered for an examination in Computing, must ensure that they cover the statutory Programmes of Study adequately by allocating sufficient curriculum time. (Academies, Free schools and Independent schools are exempt).

How much time do maintained schools have to allocate to the teaching of the Computing Programmes of Study at key stage 4?

The Department for Education response is:

"Schools are free to decide how much teaching time should be allocated to each subject. They should allocate enough time to ensure they cover the programmes of study in their entirety and in a way that meets schools’ general duty to teach a broad and balanced school curriculum.”

How do I prepare learners for Key Stage 4 qualifications when they haven’t covered the basics at Key Stage 1 – 3?

The exam board specifications for GCSE will be changing, and will be taught for the first time in September 2016. In the short term, there is still a challenge to teach a condensed Key Stage 3 curriculum to years 8 and 9.

The answer is to map the exam board qualification specification to the National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 - or the Computing Progression Pathways, which provides the much needed detail. Innovate My Curriculum has released guidance on the new (2016) GCSE Computer Science specifications.

By completing this process, it will become apparent that there is overlap between the National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 and the Key Stage 4 qualification of choice. Depending on the exam board that you’ve chosen, it could be somewhere between a third to a half of the specification that will mapped between the key stages. Begin by prioritising the teaching and learning from the Key Stage 3 Programmes of Study based on the foundations they need at Key Stage 4.

What if we operate a condensed Key Stage 3?

If a school is operating a condensed Key Stage 3 (i.e. teaching the whole content of the Key Stage 3 Programmes of Study to only years 7 and/or 8) and all of the learners were going to take a Computing qualification at Key Stage 4, then one approach is to use year 9 to cover the learning that appears at both Key Stage 3 from the National Curriculum Programmes of Study and your chosen Key Stage 4 qualification.

Focus on the learning from Key Stage 3 Programmes of Study that doesn't re-appear at Key Stage 4, this learning is usually the foundations of the subject. One approach to this is to identify these foundations is to use the Computing Progression Pathways. Innovate My Curriculum has released guidance on the new (2016) GCSE Computer Science specifications.

The Department for Education (DfE) has taken the decision not to approve ICT qualifications at GSCE and A-Level. When considering future curriculum planning needs and staffing provision it is important for schools to consider how the recent DfE announcement affects their learners. As a starting point, we would recommend reading the Approved ICT and Computing Qualifications document under taken and regularly updated by Terry Freedman.

Further Reading


Terry Freedman of ICT In Education, Approved ICT and Computing Qualifications