Services for pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties

At Northern Counties School, we have a distinct population of children and young people who have combinations of very complex physical, sensory, learning and health needs. These children have significant physical disabilities, which affect their gross and fine motor skills, and have severe/profound learning difficulties. They may have a hearing or visual impairment and some have both senses affected making their disability very complex. In addition to their physical and learning needs, many of the children have significant health and feeding needs, requiring close nursing supervision and medical care.

What PMLD education services do we provide?

We provide a multidisciplinary approach to the education of children and young adults (aged 3-19) with PMLD and complex health needs. Young people are provided with specialised integrated educational and therapeutic provision within an environment that encourages communication on all levels. The child-centred approach ensures pupils have full access to a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum that is suitably differentiated to meet their individual needs. This service is staffed by specialist teachers, therapists and special support assistants, together with full-time, on-site paediatric nursing support.

Rationale for the curriculum for pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties

The curriculum for pupils with PMLD reflects the cross curricular and multidisciplinary nature of the work that we do. The curriculum is divided into three strands: communication, sensory exploration and physical exploration. Cognitive development is embedded throughout the curriculum and promoted through all activities. The curriculum is topic based to provide a vehicle through which each individual can develop their range of responses, skills and interests over time.

As these pupils are pre-subject learners the curriculum focuses on developing and assessing pupil engagement. Engagement comprises seven areas: awareness, initiation, persistence, curiosity, discovery, investigation and anticipation. Instead of teaching pupils knowledge/skills in the traditional subject areas, the focus is instead on the area of engagement and the topic is simply a context within which to develop these areas. Pupils each have their own termly provision map which is spilt into these seven areas, and objectives are worked on aiming to develop these. The objectives within this are linked to a subject area from the iASEND assessment framework in line with the whole school assessment policy.

Highly structured and fully modified class programmes are provided by an integrated team of teaching staff, therapists and learning support workers. The focus is very much on individual programmes, with an emphasis on multi-sensory approaches and experiences. Tasks and activities are structured carefully so that they are relevant and purposeful for each pupil in order to maximise motivation; all activities are planned to enable learners to make sense of the world around them. We have an interactive, consistent and repetitive approach, with activities presented over extended sessions to allow children the time they need to process experiences and to develop and share their preference and interests.

All teaching must be meaningful to the needs of our pupils with PMLD, with curriculum content carefully selected in order to provide relevance, coherence and breadth, and then delivered at a suitable and appropriate pace. Needs-led, multi-sensory teaching and learning is utilised, throughout which aims to provide a wealth of varied sensory experiences for our pupils within an active learning environment.

This will enable pupils to:

  • be motivated to reach outside themselves
  • develop preferences
  • develop anticipatory skills
  • develop early concepts e.g. object permanence
  • begin to gain an early awareness of different concepts
  • develop tactual skills – as hearing and vision may be fragmented for our pupils tactual learning can be used as a connecting strategy. Through hand skills pupils learn to reach, hold, manipulate and explore with either hand or both hands together.

The complex nature of our children’s needs demand a high level of therapeutic input. Therefore, the curriculum is built on explicit therapy-based sessions, including motor programmes, rebound therapy, hydrotherapy, individual physiotherapy and communication development sessions and switching groups. The therapeutic approach is implicit in all sessions across the curriculum, with jointly planned sessions and targets being addressed.

Pupils with PMLD develop new skills at varying rates and progress will be measured in very small steps. This will require a highly structured teaching and assessment programme, in which observation and interpretation of responses and progress over time will be needed. The assessment of the pupils is the main priority within the complex learners approach. The whole learning experience must be assessed not just the attainment of the pupil. Due to the nature of the pupils and the small steps they make, we ensure that the observations are holistic and every element of the learning interaction is captured through the recording. Not only the context of the learning but the position of the pupil, facilitations, location, noise, specific information on how the learning was staged and the mood of the pupil. Through the collation of detailed and specific information, more accurate assessments are made and factors which positively influence learning are created.

Each pupil  have their own personalised file and staff work on a one to one, small group basis with each pupil as whole class teaching is not always appropriate for these pupils and sessions are not delivered on this way. An individualised approach allows pupils’ complex medical and personal care needs to be catered for without impacting on the timetable or learning of the group. This group of children and young adults have at least one-to-one support so that they can access the highly structured learning and assessment programme in order to identify, consolidate and develop individual skills and responses. The experienced staff work together to interpret and understand an individual’s range of responses and experiences in order to move their learning on at an appropriate pace. The environment is vibrant, stimulating and reactive, being carefully planned and organised to maximise the opportunities for each child to respond to and get feedback from it. This offers a range of multi-sensory cues and events that allow each young person to engage with their surroundings, peers and adults, while experiencing a rich and varied range of activities.

We aim to:

  • Stimulate and motivate each young person to use all their abilities in all areas of development
  • Encourage each individual to function at their optimum level.
  • Scaffold opportunities for the young person to communicate their feelings, responses, preferences and choices in an increasingly consistent way and for the adults around them to respond appropriately
  • Value each individual’s needs and interests and provide enriched opportunities to explore the world around them in purposeful ways

We offer:

  • A full therapy team and specialist teaching and support staff. All staff working at the school are experienced and have received specialist training to support their work with children with complex needs, including teachers of the deaf, a teacher of the visually impaired, and teachers for children with PMLD qualifications.
  • The young people are all taught within a small teaching group. Each individual has at 1:1 support in order for them to fully access the curriculum and all aspects of school life. Occasionally a pupil may need additional staffing to support their health needs.
  • Teaching and therapy staff work together to create individual timetables and programmes to meet the needs of each pupil. This is intended to be age appropriate in terms of topic content but developmentally matched to the child’s needs.