Areas of Learning at Key Stage 4

At Key Stage 4 the school curriculum must meet the statutory requirements of the

The Key Stage 4 Northern Ireland Curriculum is comprised of nine Areas of Learning. These are:

  • Language and Literacy
  • Mathematics and Numeracy
  • Modern Languages
  • The Arts
  • Environment and Society
  • Science and Technology
  • Learning for Life and Work (contributory elements; Employability, Local and Global Citizenship and Personal Development) - statutory
  • Physical Education - statutory
  • Religious Education - statutory

(Refer to The Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007)

What is a broad and balanced curriculum?

A broad and balanced curriculum is one which meets the requirements of the Key Stage 4 Entitlement Framework and the needs of all young people.

Schools should consider to what extent their curriculum is broad and balanced as defined by the following characteristics:

and the associated objectives to:

  • the curriculum as offered meets the Northern Ireland Curriculum aim:
    • to empower young people to achieve their potential and to make informed and responsible decisions throughout their lives.
    • develop the young person as an individual;
    • develop the young person as a contributor to society; and
    • develop the young person as a contributor to the economy and environment.

These conditions will be met when the curriculum offered:

  • provides progression and continuity from Key Stage 3;
  • comprises a coherent, relevant learning programme;
  • includes the statutory Areas of Learning of:
    • Learning for Life and Work;
    • Physical Education; and
    • Religious Education.

Additionally, the curriculum should be pupil-centred and reflect diversity of needs. It should:

  • be based on individual pupil needs, their interests and aspirations;
  • take into account individual ability;
  • take into account future learning/career pathways; and
  • provide pupils with opportunities to select from a range of subjects options and accredited general and applied qualifications which have currency with employers, colleges of Further Education and Universities.

So that:

  • all courses should be part of a well planned, structured, coherent learning programme;
  • focus on improving standards in literacy and numeracy across all subjects;
  • provide Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) and promote STEM-based careers through:
    • Careers education;
    • Career planning;
    • Developing employability skills;
    • Work related learning experiences; and
    • Careers information; and
    • Careers advice and guidance.
  • provide opportunities for experiential learning in the workplace and the community;
  • provide opportunities for young people to work with other young people from different traditions and backgrounds for example, by participating in cross-community activities;
  • provide opportunities for pupils to develop Cross-Curricular Skills and Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities, building on those acquired at Key Stage 3;
  • empower pupils to be independent and lifelong learners; and
  • foster attitudes and dispositions to support independent and lifelong learning, personal development, active citizenship and employability.

What is a coherent curriculum?

In addition to breadth and balance the course provision of the curriculum should be coherent in its lateral coverage. It should be structured to cover the range of subjects as outlined in the Key Stage 4 Entitlement Framework and provide for progression from Key Stage 3.

A coherent curriculum should be based on the rationale and aims of the Northern Ireland Curriculum. The component parts of the curriculum should have a clear and explicit relationship with one another within each year of each Key Stage and over time. At Key Stage 4 a coherent school curriculum is one which supports pupils to gain a better understanding of their learning experience as a whole.

To help ensure the curriculum is coherent in terms of content, schools can:

  • support pupils to make explicit learning connections across Areas of Learning and subjects at Key Stage 4. For example, the application of mathematical skills in Science and Technology and other appropriate subjects.
  • make explicit the relationship between knowledge, understanding, skills and capabilities within and across subjects. For example, there should be an emphasis on deep learning rather than the recall of facts and on the transferability of skills.
  • support improvements in standards in Literacy and Numeracy;
  • emphasise the relevance of the pupils’ learning experiences to:
    • every day life;
    • personal development;
    • the world of work and learning and career pathways;
    • active citizenship, the community and society; and
    • the environment and sustainability.

To ensure the pupils’ experiences of the curriculum is coherent schools should:

  • support pupils to become increasingly independent learners;
  • prepare pupils for life-long learning;
  • make use of a learner-centred pedagogy consistent with the priorities established for Key Stage 3 so as to include:
    • an infusion approach to teaching skills alongside subject;
    • knowledge and understanding;
    • the use of active enquiry-based learning and active teaching methodologies; and
    • the use of a range of assessment approaches to support learning.

What is curriculum continuity?

A curriculum that is coherent over time is one which supports continuity and progression in learning. Although at Key Stage 4 pupils mainly experience the Northern Ireland Curriculum through subject courses and qualifications, schools can provide for continuity in learning from Key Stage 3 by:

  • making explicit links between Key Stage 3 subject learning and the learning required for subject specifications;
  • meeting the Key Stage 4 statutory requirements for Learning for Life and Work, Physical Education and Religious Education;
  • ensuring that pupils can acquire and develop skills and capabilities through their choice of qualifications;
  • providing Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance (CEIAG). This can support pupils in making learning connections between subjects across Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 as part of wider discussion about learning pathways and career choices; and
  • promoting a curriculum pedagogy at Key Stage 4 which is consistent with experiences pupils bring from Key Stage 3.

Curriculum progression from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4

The obvious difference between Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 is that at Key Stage 4 pupils experience the curriculum through courses and qualifications (specifications) offered by Key Stage 4 Entitlement Framework. However, the curriculum at Key Stage 4 should still enable pupils to build on their prior learning and achievements from Key Stage 3.

The Chief Inspector's Report (ETI, 2012) advises that at Key Stage 4 schools and teachers need to move beyond a narrow focus on content - based knowledge to include a broader focus that includes skills. This is important as progression in learning is not just about the quantity of subject content pupils can recall. Rather progression is about moving pupils from dependence on teacher input to independent learning and from shallow, surface learning to deep learning.

Guidance on Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Key Stage 4

To support schools in meeting the statutory requirements for the Northern Ireland Curriculum and assessment at Key Stage 4 and the Key Stage 4 Entitlement Framework CCEA have produced guidance on teaching, learning and assessment at Key Stage 4. The guidance supports principals, senior leaders/managers and teachers to plan and develop quality teaching, learning and assessment at whole-school and classroom levels. The focus of the guidance is on supporting pupil progression and improvements in learning across the curriculum. The guidance aims to encourage and promote:

  • effective and manageable planning and development of quality teaching, learning and assessment;
  • an integrated and coherent approach to teaching, learning and assessment that focuses on progression, improving learning and raising standards;
  • the teaching of skills and capabilities alongside knowledge and understanding through enquiry;
  • developing a shared understanding of standards; and
  • the effective use of assessment data to:
    • improve teaching and learning;
    • track and monitor pupil progress;
    • identify low and underachievement;
    • set targets and for benchmarking; and
    • contribute to raising standards.

Useful Links

The Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007


Mórphictiúr an Churaclaim ag Eochairchéim 4
32.66 KB - uploaded 29-01-2014
Chief Inspector's Report (ETI, 2012)
4.51 MB - uploaded 29-01-2014