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Our Pre-formal curriculum recognises that people with PMLD and complex SLD have unique aptitudes and means of experiencing the world around them therefore National Curriculum approaches are not appropriate. However, we accept and embrace the necessity of ensuring a broad, balanced, engaging curriculum which has the individual needs of the learner at the centre to ensure meaningful progression.  

The pre-formal curriculum does not teach; it promotes learning through explorative play and curiosity. The focus in the pre-formal curriculum is on the basics of cognition, communication, and emotional and social development. Every moment and situation is seen as an opportunity to interact and communicate.  

The pre-formal curriculum is an integrated curriculum accessed through personalised support. Learners interact with the world around them through observing and exploring that world. Thematic play provides opportunities for pre-formal learners to encounter the world and to develop their curiosity. Within their play, learners may reach, hold, explore and encounter sensory items and stimuli, experience cause and effect, light and dark and sounds of different frequencies. In the earliest stages of play, (sensorimotor) exploration of the world is spontaneous through touch, smell, taste as well as being aware how things look and sound – these are naturalistic experiences. Themes are planned across their school journey to add breath of experience and link to Learning areas. 

It is important that pre-formal learners are able to explore the physical world as independently as possible as this enables opportunities for communication and cognitive development, therefore we encourage and support mobility to allow exploration. By exploring, learners begin to discover more on their own, and begin to learn to think for themselves. 

For our pre-formal learners, feedback helps them to identify the learning outcome and celebrate success. Where appropriate, the next step may be identified.  

A holistic approach should be taken to learning rather than teaching to specific targets. The young person determines the pace and direction of teaching and where the learning will go. Individual progression and assessment is often best recognised retrospectively at the end of each session, week or term and supported by the Engagement model and Routes for Learning assessment outcomes. Key methodology and interventions include  

Self Help and Independence/Social, Emotional and Mental Health: Feeding plans, Personal and Intimate Care Plans, Characteristics of Effective Learning, story massage, intensive interaction, positive touch  

Sensory/Physical: Hydrotherapy, postural care plans, physiotherapy, messy play, Resonance board, sensory experiences and environments, science, music and art interaction, Body awareness  

Communication and Interaction: Engagement for Learning, Makaton, Symbols, PECS, Intensive Interaction, On Body Signing, Objects of Reference, Songs of Reference, AAC, Eye Gaze, Positive Touch, Story Massage   

 Cognition and Learning: Letters and Sounds, Early Writing and Reasoning sequence documents, TAC PAC, Sensory Stories, Switch Progression Pathway, Environment Control and Immersive Days   

Our pre formal Curriculum has been designed to ensure that our learners are enabled through rigorous, immersive, appealing experiences while valuing and accepting each individual for exactly who they are.  


The semi-formal curriculum does not focus on the didactic teaching of content, instead it promotes learning through encouraging inquiry and developing attitudes such as curiosity the desire to experiment and challenge, and the sharing of ideas. 

It is developmentally appropriate and seeks to teach relevant and meaningful skills to improve the life opportunities of the learners accessing it. The curriculum is driven through personalised targets from individual Education, Health and Care plans and is delivered through a full and creative approach to learning, where pupils are motivated and enthusiastic to learn at their own pace. Pupils are encouraged to follow their own interests and the Characteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL) provide a scaffold to support pupils to take risks, have their own ideas and to enjoy the learning opportunities provided. 

The semiformal curriculum focuses on the development and exploration of thinking skills for learners with severe and complex learning difficulties. 

Learning, rather than the memorising of facts, becomes a way of thinking, of trying to understand the world, and of determining one’s identity within that world. 

Thinking skills, including the making of more abstract connections, are developed through themed approaches with focused learning opportunities that introduce content appropriate to the individual’s cognitive processing capabilities. 

Semi-formal learners are encouraged to engage with the wider environment. By providing opportunities to explore, we are providing learners with opportunities to construct their own knowledge. These experiences can be naturalistic, informal or structured. 

  • Naturalistic or spontaneous experiences are where the learner controls choice and action; 

  • Informal experiences are where the learner chooses the activity and action, but adults intervene at some point; 

  • Structured experiences are where the adult chooses the experience for the learner and gives some direction to the learner’s action. 

Formal content can be introduced at appropriate stages matched to the learner’s cognitive processing in some or all areas. However the majority of our learners are working below the formal stage across all subjects/skills. Therefore most teaching and learning experiences are delivered through carefully planned and balanced themes and topics relating to a broad range of subjects:

My Communication (Reading, Writing, Language development) 

My Reasoning (Number, Geometry & Measurement)  

Our World (Citizenship, RE, Humanities, Science, Computing) 

My Creativity (Art, Music, Drama) 

Myself (Personal Development, Health &Wellbeing, RSE, Personal Safety, PFA, WRL&CEIAG) 

My Movement (Sensory Interaction, Physical Education/Development)   

Our sequential learning documents for the key learning areas above set out our approaches and steps towards building skills and knowledge at the learner’s own pace. They are used by our specialist staff to plan at point of delivery for individual learners.  

Opportunities for informal experiences may be provided through play sessions. Enquiry through problem-solving does not require learners to discover everything for themselves, but they are supported to relate new knowledge and content to previously learned knowledge and to experiential learning. Adults facilitate this process through asking relevant questions. 

Semi-formal learners gain experience through structured problem-solving activities that build on previous informal experiences, where the driving force is curiosity—an interest in finding out. 

Research shows that structured problem-solving and reflective play are important factors in the development of thinking and learning skills. 

For our semiformal learners, feedback needs to be related to the learning outcome, and focus on both their achievements and their next steps. 

Pupils may receive bespoke interventions to help remove barriers to learning such as sensory experiences, regular movement breaks, AAC, phonic and non-phonic reading approaches and the use of Attention Autism. Learning will be broken down into component skills and opportunities to revisit and consolidate learning are prioritised alongside being aspirational about what pupils can achieve.  

This approach embeds understanding and allows skills to be generalised both in real life learning situations in school to real world learning opportunities out in the local community. The semi-formal curriculum ultimately works to enable pupils to be well prepared for their future as valued members of their communities. 


The formal curriculum builds upon and extends the knowledge, skills and understanding introduced through the semiformal curriculum, and adheres to the requirements of the National Curriculum where appropriate to the individual’s learning needs and EHCP outcomes. Formal learners have opportunities to access both academic and vocational accreditations- it is worth noting that our school does not offer accreditations/qualifications above the national level 1 qualifications due to the specialist demands of delivering such courses.  

The formal curriculum develops ability through providing meaningful, engaging contexts for learning and providing appropriate accreditation. Life skills, independence and social communication skills form a crucial part of the curriculum. Enabling our learners to develop healthy attitudes and lifestyles in preparation for adulthood is our priority. All skills and knowledge need to be transferrable and relevant; the classroom is only the starting point. The curriculum uses real world opportunities both in the classroom and community environments, driven by targets from individual Education, Health and Care plans to ensure that learning is personalised and builds intentionally towards individual outcomes in order to improve the life chances and opportunities of every young person.  

Learners may have a range of issues and combination of layered needs including physical, medical, sensory, communication, mental health, social or behavioural.  

Learner’s may present an uneven profile and where gaps in understanding are found, content from the Semi-formal curriculum may be accessed to ensure solid foundations are built. New concepts are first introduced using physical, sensory and concrete materials before learners go on to develop, consolidate and generalise their learning. Our aims are to build resilience and for individuals to become active learners, to take ownership of their learning, to play and explore and begin to develop higher order thinking skills required to be critical thinkers and active participators in their world. 

To remove barriers to learning, pupils may require sensory input, use augmented and alternative communication including technologies or signs and symbols, they may need adaptations to support physical needs, they may need learning to be broken down into smaller chunks or revisited several times and regularly in order for it to be retained.  

Our formal pathway is aspirational and encourages learners to develop their interests in order to succeed. For our formal learners, feedback is given to the pupil in relation to learning outcomes and next steps; where appropriate this should also be recorded.