Pre Formal

The pre-formal curriculum pathway is for pupils who have profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) or who are at very early levels of development. Pupils access a curriculum that enables them to develop a sense of security in the school environment, which is comprehensible and meaningful to them. Learning enables pupils to establish positive interactive relationships with others, have the opportunity to respond and communicate, be proactive in exploring their world and gain environmental control skills. All pupils will be supported to reach their physical potential and be given opportunities to achieve the highest level of independence and autonomy possible.

Pupils will know how to:

Communicate ‘more’





Show preferences


Attract attention


Show anticipation

Solve problems

Know that what they do makes something happen

Be curious

Show interest and engagement


Understand object permanence


Be content

Accept ‘new’ and ‘different’

Share an experience

Express themselves

Know that they exist

Notice there is another


Reach their personal physical goals

How pupils will be supported to achieve this:

Key Teaching and Learning Strategies for this cohort of learners

To be ready to learn

To enable this for those following a pre-formal curricular offer, we have fewer structured ‘taught’ sessions to ensure that pupils’ sensory, physical or care needs can be met and that our pupils are as functional and engaged as possible. We work with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to establish what this is.


For discovery and real learning to occur, our pupils need us to wait and be given the time and space to process and discover. Our pupils are given an appropriate amount of time for their learning needs, not only in readiness to learn, but within each action.


Repetition is key to building our pupils’ skills and understanding; within the structure of the day, sessions throughout the term and within the session itself. ‘Burst-pause’ and its repetition within most sessions gives pupils the opportunity to communicate their preference. This is used to support pupils to understand that they can be in control of their surroundings and communicate their preferences to others. To progress our pupils need to revisit activities frequently to consolidate their learning.

Events of reference

To support understanding by giving each lesson or activity an event of reference; using an object that can be explored as multi-sensorially as possible. The use of music, lights, smells, projections or staff actions that help those who may have multi-sensory impairments understand what is about to happen. For many pupils they can also be supported by their own objects of reference or on body signing.

Intensive Interaction

Simple call and response to support pupils to understand that they can control and that they have a voice. They will begin to notice that there is another and the joy of human interaction. This is used to teach the fundamentals of early communication and interaction skills.

Physical support

Most pupils who are following this learning pathway have physical challenges. Pupils need considerable support and adaptation to engage with any activity physically, however we avoid ‘hand over hand’ support wherever possible, supporting with hand under hand sometimes, but any support is to enable individuals to be physically engaged and as independent as possible and done in response to the intentions that pupils are showing. The principles of readiness to learn, time and consolidation apply here.

Physical therapy and facilitation

Many pupils following the pre-formal pathway have significant therapeutic needs which need to be incorporated within their curricular offer and inform the learning activities throughout their school day. Some pupils may have discreet sessions with physiotherapists (hydrotherapy, functional skills, passive movements, positioning) or occupational therapists (working on pupils’ sensory modulation needs or hand function). This is also incorporated into each pupil’s day within their own class, to enable learning; positioning and passive movements for function or sensory modulation preparation to be ready and calm enough to absorb and take part in learning.

The learning palette

All sessions for pupils following this pathway need to have repetition and / or connectivity with familiar or previous learning. Pupils are learning through this learning palette, not necessarily about.


This session supports pupils to notice and communicate with those around them, whilst developing a greater sense of their own identity and ability to have a ‘voice’. Pupils will be given time to communicate and realise they can impact the world around them. Intensive Interaction approaches are often appropriate, with staff acknowledging and responding to all non-verbal communication, however time for silence can also support individuals to respond to each other and be ‘heard’.


Discovery is inspired by scientific and/or geographical aspects of each topic. This session involves predominantly pupil led exploration, with pupils choosing how to explore and staff making careful judgements on when to model, join in or observe. Staff will ensure activities and experiences are exciting in order to engage pupils and maximise learning.


Culture incorporates religious beliefs and practices, traditions, traditional stories, foods and home life. Like ‘Discovery’ these sessions involve predominantly supported pupil led exploration, with pupils choosing how to explore and staff making careful judgements on when to model, join in or observe. Staff will ensure activities and experiences are exciting in order to engage pupils and maximise learning.


This session may focus on an artist, technique or be based on the emotions portrayed in a piece of artwork, depending on the topic. There may be an end product, but this is never the primary driver for the activity, as the process is of more value. Depending on the class, art may be delivered as a whole class session or be a standalone activity which runs alongside other provision. Either approach will be led by the pupils and how they choose to explore and discover.


This session will be taken from a poem, story, drama or passage of history. This may be used in full or abridged versions. Teachers will not shy away from using complex language within these stories from pieces of literature, but they always ensure that there is a non-language based means of understanding the context. Stories involve a variety of sensory elements; projections around the room, music/sounds, smells, tastes, textures and movements. The staff team are part of the theatre of the story, and participate using voice, actions, movement and improvisation. Whilst there is a structure to the story, these sessions are pupil led and the trajectory within the session and over time is led by pupil responses.


This area of learning can take its inspiration from a composer, a piece of music, genre or music traditions of a country or its instruments. Pupils should have the opportunity to listen to a wide range of music and sounds and notice the changes in pitch, tempo and dynamics within a piece. Where possible real instruments should be used as well as voice. Pupils should be enabled, using appropriate technology or assistance to create sounds themselves.

Stop and Go

This is a communication and movement-based session, where pupils control music and actions when these are paused. Giving pupils the opportunity to show others their preferences and developing their ability to communicate when they want more as well as their understanding of cause and effect, when controlling music via switches.


All pupils have regular access to their local community, in order to widen their experiences of the world. Pupils may go on regular weekly trips, which may incorporate individuals learning needs or larger visits which are linked to the topic for that term. Teachers will reflect on the purpose of visits and ensure they are both meaningful and beneficial.


Cooking focuses on the process, instead of the product. Opportunities to communicate, explore independently, respond to or accept new sensory stimuli should be incorporated, particularly as taste and texture can be extremely motivating for many. Tastes, smells, textures, sounds, equipment and processes all provide a rich sensory learning opportunity. Connectivity and repetition throughout a scheme of work supports pupils to develop memory for responses.

Physical development

Some pupils may take part in rebound, hydrotherapy and/or work towards their own MOVE targets, which are activity based and goal directed to gain independent movement to the best of their ability.

Individual Activities

These allow pupils to work on their IEP targets and/or a specific area of need, appropriate to that pupil.

Snack / Lunch / Playtime

These are important social and learning times for all pupils. Some may use the motivation of food to practise communication or eating and drinking skills, whilst it is also an opportunity where peers can spend time together and everyone can share their news (through diaries or home to school switches). Pupils are also continuously supported to develop their own interests with which they can engage as independently as possible.

Music Therapy

Music therapy supports pupils on an individual or small group basis and is run by a qualified music therapist. This is a therapy based on engagement in musical activities to support the reduction of anxiety, improving social interaction and enabling engagement.