School year > Subject guides > Computer science

Computer science at primary school

Computing, information technology and digital citizenship

The computer science curriculum has changed in recent years, with an increased focus on the science of computing — on helping our children have a good understanding of how computers work in this highly digital age. Whether a child grows up to be a programmer or not (and in any case, career choices are a long way off for an eight-year old!), the skills within computing are useful because many of them centre around problem-solving which can be applied in many other contexts.

The computing curriculum in primary schools in England

The computing programme of study within the National Curriculum 2014 sets out an overview of learning objectives that children should be taught by the end of each key stage. There aren’t objectives for each year group, so schools have freedom in how and when they deliver these within their curriculum.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

Computing doesn’t stretch to early years (EYFS), but technology is mentioned in the EYFS framework. One of the areas of learning, Understanding the World, sets out that children should have the opportunity to explore, observe and find out about technology.

Key Stage 1 (Years 1–2) and Key Stage 2 (Years 3–6)

Usefully, the objectives for both Key Stage 1 and 2 fit into three main strands: computer science, information technology and digital literacy.

Computer science: Key stage 1 and 2

Computer science covers topics such as:

  • how computer networks work
  • algorithms
  • sequence
  • selection
  • variables

There are no specific programming languages outlined in the computing programme of study, so schools can decide how to teach these concepts. Visual programming languages that involve snapping blocks together, rather than keying in text, like Scratch, are very popular. Unplugged tasks, where concepts are taught away from the computer, using techniques such as role play, can also work well.

Computer science: Key Stage 2

That doesn’t mean to say that some schools won’t introduce a bit of text-based programming to the older children; Python is quite a popular one to start with at Key stage 2. In these years, computational thinking is also developed further through concepts such as decomposition, which means breaking down large problems into smaller parts.

Information technology: Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2

Information technology is very broad as it involves the creation, organisation and manipulation of digital content in both key stages – digital content could be interpreted as many things from audio to images to film and beyond.

Information technology: Key Stage 2

In Key Stage 2, information technology steps up because children should also be taught how to use search technologies effectively and how to analyse, present and evaluate data.

Digital citizenship: Key stage 1 and Key stage 2

The digital citizenship component of the computing curriculum incorporates a lot of what is referred to as ‘online safety’ – using technology safely, respectfully and responsibly. All children should be taught a range of ways to report any concerns they may have.

Digital citizenship: Key stage 2

In addition, pupils in Key Stage 2 must also learn how to evaluate content and consider how reliable the information they find online is.

The computing curriculum in primary schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

  • For the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes for technologies in Scotland visit Education Scotland.
  • Details about information and communication technology in the national curriculum for Wales can be found on the Learning Wales website.
  • In Northern Ireland, technology is included within the World Around Us area of learning. Visit the CCEA website for more details.

How can I support my child with computing?

The best way to support your child with any aspect of computing is to enjoy using technology with them and model the safe and responsible use of it. Here are five ideas:

1. Become the student

Let them show you how to use their favourite app or do something that they have learned in school.

2. Help them use technology to support their homework

If they have to practise a maths skill, help them create a how-to video demonstrating the skill. Why not create a short film based on a story they have written? Or perhaps an animation? Find some YouTube videos or play games together that support what they’re learning about in school.

3. Research with them

Research a topic they are learning about or are interested in with them. Decide together how reliable you think each website is — does the information on it appear anywhere else? Who created the website? Discuss the rankings — why does the search engine rank some at the top and some further down?

4. Communicate with family

Keep in touch with family members by composing emails together or using services like Skype to make video calls. Discuss how useful these tools can be when used responsibly.

5. Chat regularly

Ask children how they have been using technology this week, what their favourite app is etc. Make sure they feel they can come to you, should an issue arise for them.

Further support and useful web links

  • common sense media — they aim to empower parents and teachers by providing unbiased information to help them harness the power of media and make it a positive force in children’s lives. There are family guides and they tackle many topics of concern
  • NSPCC — key advice on keeping your child safe online
  • SCRATCH — find out more about visual coding and learn how to do it with your child for free
  • Vodafone: digital parenting – a comprehensive magazine from Vodafone with ideas to build confidence and resilience online

Subject guides