Curriculum Offer for Students with Profound Multiple Learning Difficulties
At The Meadows, our pre-formal curriculum pays homage to the EQUALS pre-formal curriculum, Routes for Learning, and The Engagement Model. Due to the cognitive levels and medical needs of our learners, we do not focus on development through the key stages, but more of an individualised curriculum per child based upon their EHCP targets as well as theirs and their family’s goals for the future. The aim is to enable our pupils to have the best possible outlook to life after The Meadows, to ensure they are able to express their wants and needs as best as possible and living which as much independence as they can, whether that be physically, cognitively or communicatively.
The EQUALS pre-formal curriculum does not stipulate what to teach now and what to teach next, and it does not provide a body of knowledge that is essential for learners to know as it believes that it is the learners who will decide what direction the learning will take; teachers (and LSPs) can only help to build routines, facilitate change, offer alternatives, observe and guide. Therefore, EQUALS is a curriculum of ideas designed collaboratively by the pre-formal staff based upon successes and failures recognised over time, proving that the success will depend upon the students we teach, and is therefore ever evolving and changing.
EQUALS plays great emphasis on developing recognition, anticipation and realisation skills relevant to our engagement model. This is why EQUALs suggests covering the same lesson for a pro-longed period in order to harness and develop these skills. Therefore, pupils will revisit the same learning for an entire term before moving on to a new activity or topic, evident throughout individual teacher planning.
ROUTES FOR LEARNING
We work solely on challenging our pupils based upon their EHCP targets, which we take directly from the Routes for learning routemap, as well as targets implemented by multiagency professionals. The routemap allows for us to develop our pupils communication and cognition targets in a clear developmental route, in order to establish their current level and what we may be working towards, whilst also being able to note whether or not we may witness regression. The routemap focuses on development towards contingency awareness, object permanence and problem-solving skills. With the ability to navigate this route via a variety of pathways, our pupils are given the opportunity to work towards these skills in different ways.
THE ENGAGEMENT MODEL
The engagement model is used in conjunction with our existing planning, assessment and recording systems to provide a flexible, holistic assessment of pupils not engaged in subject-specific study. It is used to assess students within activities based upon their baseline to ensure high quality teaching, pedagogy and appropriate provision is in place for our pupils to ensure they reach their full potential. Student’s engagement levels are recorded against the 5 areas and is then assessed and moderated to ensure they are reaching there full potential in order to be challenged further. The 5 areas present differently within all learners but are assessed based upon the following key questions;
Exploration- how is the learner using explorative methods to engage with the activity/stimuli/staff member?
Realisation- is the learner able to respond/interact with the activity/stimuli/staff member in a way which could be interpreted as recognition? Or show an awareness of what the activity entails? eg. cause and effect awareness or responding to OOR.
Anticipation- does the learner show any level of expectancy or eagerness towards familiar or represented stimuli/activities/staff?
Persistence- is there a level of determination or prolonged engagement evident?
Initiation- is the learner able to show signs of instigating an interaction or movement in order to engage with the activity/stimuli/staff member for a longer period?
We work heavily with multi-agency professionals to ensure that pupils recognised by these teams have their medical goals factored into their daily routines. Students will have physical targets derived from their physiotherapy goals, as well as communication or cognitive/visual targets designed in line with routes for learning to support their goals set out by these multi agency teams. Many of our pupils have high multi-agency intervention, and so these targets and routines can be ever-evolving which we have to work continuously on over periods of time to develop tolerances, awareness and understanding of their means.
Each pupil works on an individualised curriculum, and different goals we are aiming to achieve per activity, however, we look to recognise that our pre-formal learners present in different ways, and as such we are able to ensure our curriculum activities are designed appropriately for all learners. Experiences and activities are done ‘with’ the learners rather than ‘to’ them in a learner led approach so to support our holistic EQUALS foundation. We place heavy emphasis on the importance of ‘turning into the learner’ in order to observe their responses in their world, so that we may interpret these responses in the most accurate way.
Our curriculum focus is highly individualised per learner, though we do recognise that within our PMLD cohort, there are three main levels to our pre-formal pathway. This enables us to recognise what ideal expectations we can have for our learners and how to stretch and challenge them appropriately in order for them to achieve these expectations.
Lower pre-formal- Those working at maintaining skills at a very delayed pace, with the understanding that regression may occur.
Mid pre-formal- Those with the ability to maintain skills and potentially develop skills over a prolonged period, whilst developing anticipation and communicative abilities.
Upper pre-formal- Those with the ability to develop and enrich certain skills, working towards levels of independence.
Every interaction with our students is seen as a learning opportunity. Though there are periods of ‘winding down’ or transitioning between activities which are important moments of calm for our learners, there are no missed learning opportunities within this pathway, and so these moments are equally as observed and monitored by staff.
THE BUBBLE AREAS
The curriculum at The Meadows is broken down into 5 curriculum bubble areas based upon the areas of need outlined within the EHCP.
My Thinking (Cognition and learning)
My Communication (Speech, language and communication)
My Lifestyle (Social, emotional wellbeing)
My Independence (Independence)
My Body (Physical and sensory)
Our PMLD learners will access our bubble areas through the activities stipulated above. The emphasis being that the targets marrying up with their EHCP targets to the bubble areas will be the aim of the activity, however, there are many areas which interlink and as such will be approached in a more cross-curricular manner for many of our pupils. Eg. cooking sessions will also adopt cognition and communication targets for many, if not most of our pupils, however it is recognised widely as an independence bubble area at The Meadows to develop skills for the future. With this in mind, though it is stipulated above how our curriculum activities fit into the bubble areas, it is accepted that many pupils will access activities as they choose, whether that be through their cognition, communication, SEW, physical and sensory or independence targets. This therefore promotes our student-centred teaching practice, and enables the pupils to lead on their development, thus accessing activities in a cross-bubble manner.
COMMUNICATION RICH ENVIRONMENT
Most of our pre-formal learners will never gain the ability to speak, read or write due to their medical needs, which is why we ensure we utilise a multi-modal communication approach. Across school, ALDs and Makaton signing is used heavily to support pupils communicative and understanding methods, and in the PMLD areas, we also place heavy emphasis on TASSELs (on body signing) which has been especially designed for pupils who are unable to communicate through other means so to give them an awareness of what may be upcoming, and objects of reference (OOR) in order to give students the opportunity over time to become responsive to a particular form of communication which may be able to follow them into adulthood. A few PMLD learners are able to work with PECs and visual timetables, which will be worked into their classroom-based activities in order to develop these communicative skills to enhance their understanding of the world around them.
To ensure we promote a literacy rich environment within our PMLD classes, all classes will work with literacy, utilising sensory stories and story massage as approaches to storytelling. It is widely known that storytelling creates a participatory and immersive experience that allows learners to enjoy hearing language in a dynamic, stylistic and entertaining way, therefore we approach it in accessible ways for our learners to promote their engagement.
PHSE and HRE/RSE became mandatory in primary and secondary schools in September 2020. Though our students attend a secondary setting, the cognitive abilities and learning needs of our pre-formal learners mean they are unable to access RSE content, and so continue to work at an early years/primary level.
Our PHSE programme is embedded naturally into our daily/weekly timetables, covering topics in a cognitively appropriate manner through activities such as story massage (emphasising consent), health and hygiene (health and wellbeing), RE activities (diversity and British values) and sensory exploration, which can be utilised to explore living in the wider world, relationships and SMSC. Teachers will design their activities around their learners, as emphasised by the EQUALS curriculum, and as such, if their cognitive understanding cannot access the content, it will be addressed in an embedded manner throughout the curriculum.
ASSESSMENT AND MODERATION
The pre-formal curriculum will be following a different assessment and moderation approach to the majority of The Meadows, as it will not be moderated per key stage, but per student.
Students will have selected learning journeys created per activity each term which will be moderated by other PMLD classes against the engagement model to ensure learners are developing their skills to the best of their ability whilst ensuring the curriculum content is engaging and stimulating for our leaners.
All pupils within our pre-formal PMLD pathway will have personalised sensory profiles written for them and updated regularly in order to support all staff working alongside them. The profiles highlight the individual learner’s key communicative methods, recognised responses, strengths, abilities and limitations across each of the seven senses. They are therefore used as a way to support staff to interpret pupil’s responses and communications. Due to development and potential regression within our learners, these profiles are reviewed and updated regularly , and play an integral part in interpreting engagement against our engagement model.
THE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT
Due to our learners have one or many forms of sensory impairments, activities are heavily resourced for in order to captivate learners and address all available senses to them to optimise engagement. The classroom itself remains structured and well organised to allow for optimal functional learning time, with no clutter and engaging continuous provision on display.
Our learners will access a variety of different sensory stories throughout their time at the meadows. The stories will be chosen by the class teacher based upon their understanding of what may stimulate the pupils. We do not work thematically, and as such, our chosen story will not support an over-arching theme, but will enable us the opportunity to address relevant EHCP targets. Stimuli presented during sensory stories are resourced by teaching staff, and provide pupils with opportunities to explore, communicate preferences and refusals, develop anticipation and recognition and where possible, contingency awareness. The way the sensory story is presented will vary depending on the teacher and the learners, but all classes will focus on one sensory story per term to allow students to develop their appropriate skills. Our lower pre-formal students will be provided with significantly prolonged processing time in order to enhance their experience and provide staff with time to interpret responses, as well as ample support from staff where necessary, whether that be physical support or gestural support ect. Whereas our upper pre-formal learners may have less physical support in order to promote more exploratory independence, and will have shorter processing times, therefore the chance to have the story repeated within the session to enable recognition of familiar presented stimuli and the opportunity for staff to note consistencies in responses.
Story massage lends itself well to our embedded PHSE curriculum focusing no developing relationships and allowing individual liberty, or freedom of choice to consent to whether or not they wish to proceed with story massage. The Meadows has received an award for best practice in Story massage due to the fantastic use of it within our curriculum and the engagement we harness from our learners. Classes host weekly story massage sessions which will focus on the same story for a minimum of one term before moving on to ensure pupils are given ample opportunity to develop consistent responses to different massage techniques and/or musical backings. Story massages vary depending on the teacher and the pupils, with some choosing to include a powerpoint and music to go along side, and others choosing to simplify the story by reducing distractions and focusing on the massage itself.
Bagbooks are multi-sensory stories designed for people with learning disabilities. They are not all that dissimilar from our standard sensory story practice other than the resources of which all come together in a box and are exactly the same for each story. A bagbook sensory story is presented in turn to each pupil to promote turn taking and anticipation. Where larger groups are concerned, usually two stories will be presented, or a double up of resources is created to speed up waiting time. Bagbook stories are told through voice and emotion rather than words and pictures, meaning the reader will ‘perform’ the story to the pupil to enhance the experience.
Sensology is utilised by all classes as a well to awaken all of the seven senses within our pupils. Class choose to do them daily or weekly depending on the class cohort. Sensology allows pupils to respond to stimuli presented to each of the senses and communicate preferences or refusals to these. Vestibular and proprioceptive needs are also addressed.
Students are worked with on a 1:1 basis with their individual targets in mind, and encouraged to use their senses to explore the stimuli and give responses. Certain senses wont be accessible for all students and so sensology provides an opportunity to recognise preferred methods of exploration to fuel future activities, as well as areas which may need more support. Sensology will look different per student and can last the length of time the student will allow.
Intensive interaction is a practical approach to interacting with people with PMLD who do not find it easy communicating or being social. Intensive interaction is used each day across the school day with our learners and as such is not usually timetabled in. It is a method used to ‘fine-tune’ into the communication potential of our learners, and allows us as practitioners to gain access to their world and thought processes. The intensive interaction approach is widely supported by our speech and language therapist team, who offer invaluable insight into how to get the best from our learners in these moments.
The Curiosity programme
The Curiosity programme is a strategy used to help teach individuals to develop the skill of curiosity, form positive relationships with others and learn to engage with a wider range of stimuli. Drawing from various philosophies of early years education, The Meadows curiosity programme is a short interaction between 1 staff member, 1 pupil and 1 object located within a curiosity box. Students access the curiosity programme daily, sometimes several times a day for a period no longer than 5 minutes to develop their curiosity skills. Over time, this will enable us as teaching staff to recognise likes and dislikes, gain an idea of processing time, and observe initiation and persistence within our learners.
Cause and effect awareness is an important skill we work towards with our pre-formal PMLD learners. Many of our learners may never achieve contingency awareness, however it is a tool we revisit within our classes to ensure we are providing our pupils with the opportunity to control the world around them. Contingency awareness within the classroom is usually presented in a sensory exploration manner, utilising cause and effect toys, switches, Eyegaze and the Magic Carpet. Many of our low pre-formal leaners will need support in activating switches, however the responses we note from them following the activation of cause-and-effect stimuli is just as important as activating it. Our mid pre formal learners may be utilising equipment such as the eye gaze and the magic carpet in-order-to develop a response to cause and effect through fine and/or gross motor movement as well as responding to switch work, and upper pre-formal learners will be working towards more independent use of switches to control their surroundings, developing true contingency awareness.
Drama therapy (the open theatre)
We are fortunate enough to have weekly visits from the Open theatre who conduct nonverbal drama sessions with our learners. They pride themselves on being led by the curiosity of the pupils they work with which lends itself naturally to our curriculum.
Art sessions within our PMLD classes are again utilised as a method of sensory exploration. Within the lifestyle bubble, art sits as one of the creative arts, though within the PMLD classes, it is so much more than a social group session. It lends itself well to our engagement model, practicing the art of exploration, realisation, anticipation, persistence and initiation. Students learning objectives and assessment criteria are individualised in order to ensure the correct level of support is provided. This enables staff to promote the correct level of independence whilst allowing the pupil to feel confident and supported.
Music/Soundabout/Songs for interaction
Musical activities present themselves in a variety of different ways. Children with PMLD can often develop a social connection through improvised music making. Music therapy can be used to create meaningful connections with those who are often isolated and frustrated, and non-verbal musical exchanges between people can aid the development of communication, which can ultimately lead to improved wellbeing outside of the music therapy room. Classes ensure pupils have explorative music sessions where they are able to communicate choices between instruments, experience the vibrations of sound, and draw on the differences in volume and tempo. Pupils are also given the opportunity to engage in soundabout sessions which explore different sounds created through the use of a soundboard, allowing the opportunity to develop physical and communication targets. All classes enjoy songs for interaction sessions which are communal singing lessons with an element of dancewhich many of the pupils thoroughly enjoy, boosting emotional wellbeging and thus lending itself nicely to our embedded PHSE curriculum.
A social interaction focusing on the exchange of movement. Dance massage addresses vestibular needs and proprioceptive development in order to provide our pupils with a better understanding of what their bodies are capable of.
Health and hygiene
Opportunities to focus on health and hygiene experiences within school are utilised as learning experiences within PMLD classes. This may be the simplicity of exploration of bathroom products, noting responses to different textures or smells, promoting independence when washing hands, or developing tolerances of oral care and hair washing. Though many of our pupils will not develop an understanding of the importance of personal hygiene, embedding these routines will ensure they are able to tolerate these experiences outside of school and develop trust with those supporting them with these routines in the future.
Physiotherapy (fine/gross motor)
Many, if not, all of our PMLD learners will be working with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to ensure the health of the bodies does not deteriorate over time. Physio is addressed daily throughout activities, with postural care of the utmost importance. On occasion, classes will timetable in a specific lesson for physiotherapy at the start of the week, to allow pupils the chance to regain the trust and tolerances of the staff working with them through their physio programme for the rest of the week. Each pupil will have different physio programmes which all staff are to be made aware of in order to naturally embed this into the school routine.
Swimming is an important element of physio which our pupils are fortunate enough to gain access to with a swimming pool and trained staff on site. Many of our pupils may not be able to access swimming off site and therefore they are granted access weekly to ensure additional physio needs are met. Swimming staff liaise with the class teams regularly in order to support the development and progress of the individual pupil.
A series of songs promoting movement and proprioceptive awareness of different areas of the body. A fun interaction between staff and pupil which appear as though it is a creative arts lesson whilst focusing on tolerances, body parts and body awareness. Bodyworks supports relaxation, engagement and anticipation in our learners and is much loved by pupils when staff are enthusiastically singing along to the songs.
The Motor Activity Training Programme was developed by Special Olympics and is a movement-based sports programme that provides meaningful sports and physical activity for young people with severe/profound, multiple impairments and complex support needs. It is a unique programme which does not exclude any athlete. With a focus on achieving, it is designed to provide individualised training programmes to all athletes with significant disabilities. With significant emphasis on fine and gross motor independence, the MATP programme focus on mobility, dexterity, kicking and striking. Though not all our pupils will access all of these areas, they will be able to have areas adapted to suit their needs, providing them with a sense of community and value in this group session.
Rebound therapy is a key physio focused activity allowing pupils to explore the capabilities of their bodies when unrestricted. Pupils work with staff to develop social and physical skills, whilst also ensuring they are developing skills based upon previous sessions. Each student will follow an individualised plan tailored to their physical needs and prior learning.
In order to develop trust and social interaction, it is important for us to work closely with our learners. TACPAC is a specific sensory communication approach through touch and music. TACPAC creates sensory alignment and helps people of any age who have sensory impairment, developmental delay, complex learning difficulties, tactile defensiveness and limited or pre-verbal levels of communication.
Massage and reflexology
As with TACPAC, reflexology and massage help to enter the body into a deep state of relaxation. Our special needs children often need support to unwind after a physically demanding day, and the correct use of massage or reflexology can support with easing the mind and promoting mental wellbeing. Many of our pupils will suffer from joint or muscle issues, and therefore embedding massage into their daily routine helps to ensure these joint/muscle issues continue to hold the ability to relax and prevent further stiffening which is crucial for comfort, and in turn, engagement.