Primary school coding explained for parents

Coding in the 2014 primary school curriculum
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, UK children will be sitting in their classrooms potentially writing their very first lines of computer code. New 'computer code' classes, part of the 2014 primary curriculum, aim to teach kids not to be simply users of technology, but creators of it too. Kate Yelland explains what parents need to know.

When your mobile won’t work or your computer’s crashed, you no doubt draft in the kids for reinforcement! Our children already know how to use technology far better than we do and with ‘computing’ now on the educational agenda, they’ll soon know how it works too. We won’t stand a chance!

How did the ICT curriculum change in 2014?

Until 2014 children were taught ICT in schools, which basically showed them how to use technology. Under the new curriculum, which came into effect from September 2014, there is a much greater emphasis on learning about computers and teaching children how to use code.

Children as young as five get practical experience of designing and writing computer programmes so that they understand the basic principles of computer science.

Not everything will change; children will still learn how to use email, for example, but now they’ll be taught how networks like the Internet actually work too.

So what is coding?

Code is the language used to instruct computers. Facebook, your mobile apps and your browser are all made with code – it’s simply computer programming to you and me! And there are a range of different programming languages you can use – HTML, for example, is the computer code used to create web pages.

Why is coding being introduced into primary school?

The aim is to equip pupils with the skills they need for the world of work, inspire more young people to pursue careers in computing and help them to problem solve and become logical thinkers. “We don’t want to live in a world where young people just consume the web,” explains Clare Sutcliffe, Co-Founder and CEO of Code Club, the national network of over 1,300 volunteer-led after school coding clubs for 9-11 year olds. “We want to help them actively create the content they are engaging with.”

How will children be taught computer code?

Each school will decide how to cover the new computing curriculum but practical, creative projects will be key to making sure that all children become computer literate.

The IT industry looks set to give teachers support and ideas, too. Educational games producer Kuato, for example, are offering 100 free hours of coding sessions to schools based on their latest game launch Hakitzu which lets children battle robots while being shown the code behind each move. “We wanted to create a fun way for school students to get involved in learning a new skill,” explains David Miller, Chief Learning Architect at Kuato Studios, “one that could ultimately help them in their future careers.”

Computer giant Microsoft has produced a ‘Switched on Computing’ resource, aimed at primary teachers, which will help children produce interactive recipe books, maps and 3D tours, sort and identify plants and creatie and advertise a computer game. 

What will they learn in 'code classes'?

By the end of Key Stage 1, children will be expected to write and test simple programs as well as use technology safely. They will also be taught what algorithms are (basically the step-by-step instructions you give a computer in order to get the job done, like the ‘how to’ part of a cake recipe!) and how programmes work.

Children in Key Stage 2 will go one step further by designing and writing programs to achieve specific goals as well as understanding computer networks and using logic to find and put right mistakes in algorithms.

How can parents offer support at home?

Chances are your child will get to grips with coding far more quickly than you, but if you don’t want to get left behind, here’s where you can get help:

  • Codecademy – a great starting point to get familiar with code for free.
  • Scratch – learn to program your own interactive stories, games and animations and share them around the world.
  • Code Club – find out if there’s a club near you for your child to join (or perhaps you have the skills to run one locally!). If that's not an option, Code Club has made all its UK projects available online for free, an amazing resource for parents and teachers alike. Look through the Code Club term-by-term project list and get started now.
  • Ruby for Kids – a fun and easy way to help your child learn Ruby programming.
  • The Tynker iPad app is free and offers coding puzzles and games to get you started.
  • BBC Bitesize has a Computing area for KS1 and KS2, packed with films and simple explanations
  • Kodu allows children as young as 5 to code their own games. Free download (PC only).
  • Code Playground (from Barclays) lets you change the code for different animated objects and see the effects immediately. You can also try the Barclays Digital Driving Licence for a free online course to computing.

For more information about coding, the Raspberry Pi and family-friendly ways to learn to code read our article Computer coding for kids.

A number of brilliant books about coding aimed at children and parents are available; we pick 10 of the best coding books for kids in our TheSchoolRun guide.

Coding skills without a computer

A large part of the coding curriculum teaches children about programmatic thinking – no screen required! If you'd like to have a go yourself, we love these coding board and card games:

  • Robot Turtles is a board game which teaches children as young as 4 the basics of computer programming.
  • Bits & Bytes is a card game that helps develop a logical mindset, as well as teaching kids about basic computer concepts like algorithms, debugging and functions.