George Hastwell School

Pre-Formal Curriculum Pathway

The Pre-Formal curriculum is a person centred and holistic curriculum for pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties.

The curriculum is based on an early year’s approach to teaching and learning, recognising the importance of play and the need for multi-sensory resources, enabling pupils to explore and make sense of the world around them. There is a significant focus on specialist provision such as swimming, physiotherapy, massage stories, intensive interaction and physical development programmes and the staffing ratios within this specialist provision are generally higher. The curriculum takes a holistic view of the learners, by focussing on how best they learn and by acknowledging and celebrating the different abilities and achievements of those with the most complex needs. It is because these learners are so unique that they require a very separate curriculum and we do not attempt to fit them into existing frameworks that were not developed with such complex learning needs in mind, i.e. we do not follow age related expectations devised for mainstream schools.

The Pre-Formal Learning Pathway aims to meet the needs of pupils through a personalised curriculum that:

  • focuses on the early communication, social and emotional and cognitive skills that are the foundation of learning
  • ensures learning is holistic with all parts of the curriculum interconnected
  • recognises the importance of movement and play in a child’s development
  • recognises the need for sensory and multi-sensory approaches to learning
  • builds in sufficient time for learners to repeat, practise and consolidate skills
  • recognises learners’ need for consistency
  • develops learners’ levels of engagement by finding out what interests and motivates them
  • places learners’ targets at the centre of the curriculum with their interests as the teaching vehicle
  • recognises learners’ need for different levels of sensory stimulation
  • recognises learners will need to be taught to transfer or generalise skills


Pre-Formal key curriculum areas.

My Communication

This will address skills that underpin communication such as shared attention, responding, turn taking, anticipating, showing preference and making choices as well as more formal pathways such as objects of reference, symbol exchange, verbal language and signing. It’s vital that it is understood that our pupils learning can be highly contextualised, so the context of the communication must be considered, this may include the physical environment and the people communicating. At this stage of development the lessons the pupils can teach us must be learnt, e.g. the pupil may teach us that the best way to communicate with them is if the light source is behind their body. We can then use this to maximise the pupils learning.

Examples of timetabled sessions:

  • Intensive Interaction
  • Turn taking activities
  • Sensory stories
  • Attention Autism
  • Development of communication strategies
  • Messy play
  • Phonics (sounds in the environment)

My Thinking

The development of thinking and cognition comes about as the pupil can perceive themselves as part of a world in which they belong and their interaction within it. The learner will only be able to develop their thinking by receiving many opportunities to become aware of and to explore this world. These opportunities are designed and constructed to develop exploration, engagement and manipulation of objects and their environment. Our pupils will be learning to problem solve and notice relationships, their sequence and patterns.

Examples of timetabled sessions:

  • Cause and effect activities- switches (contingency and awareness responding)
  • Resonance boards
  • Sensory investigation
  • Problem solving

My Creativity

For many artists art is about the process of both the sensory experiences relating to the materials and the cognitive experiences derived from combining materials and not about outcomes, which shares the same approach with the pre-formal curriculum. It is therefore very important to remember when working through the creative arts in this curriculum to focus not what is being produced but how. Our pupils will be given time to explore and manipulate the materials offered to make art for themselves without adult intervention or support.

For our pupils the process of cooking is the process of exploring the materials, mixing them together, touching them, smelling them, tasting them, looking at them, listening to the sounds they make when moved, shaken, stirred, rather than the finished product.

Examples of timetabled sessions:

  • Sensory cooking
  • Art
  • Music
  • Dance /drama

My Movement, Physiotherapy & Hydro (My Body: including sensory needs and emotional wellbeing)

For our pupils in the pre formal curriculum the understanding of my body is central to their learning, as they must initially learn what the parameters of their body are and what is beyond it, it is with this perceptive understanding that they can begin to perceive themselves. For a person with limited mobility and sensory impairments this distinction is challenging. Once body awareness is taught and perceived then the development of gross and fine motor skills can be developed.

Examples of timetabled sessions:

  • Sensory regulatory activities
  • MOVE Programme
  • Move and Groove (Sherbourne)
  • PE
  • Yoga
  • Massage

My Independence

To make choices is a fundamental human right so it must be central to our curriculum; this can only be developed as a person develops an understanding of themselves as a person who can perceive the world around them, and then to communicate their wants and needs. The early stages of this are not about by conforming to rules but about taking control over themselves, their environment and experiences that they involved in. Again these skills can become highly contextualised so opportunities to use and learn skills should be offered in a range of situations and with a variety of people; tempering this with the provision of people and environments that the young people feel safe and secure in.  Independence can be seen in many light physical, communication, cognition etc.

Core independence skills such as eating, drinking, dressing and personal hygiene will have many benefits for both the young person and their family so these must be taught as part of my independence curriculum and not be seen as an add on or something to do as well.

Examples of timetabled sessions:

  • Snack and lunch
  • Using the toilet /personal care
  • Independent exploration
  • Preference skills

My Community

This area develops the pupil’s sense of belonging; understanding their community will only be achieved by them through developing their body awareness and their ability to operate confidently with an environment and with other people. For pupils with complex learning needs this path maybe lengthy to know themselves as part of a wider community. The learning will therefore be presented in functional contexts where pupils can be part of real time events and experiences ; these will need to be repeated in order for the pupil to develop real meaning associated to the places and people. This is also why the curriculum will have cycles of themes that will enable our pupils to develop and deepen the understanding of the world they live in.


  • Whole school assemblies/events
  • Building tolerance of unfamiliar environments/people
  • Visits to local shops/parks/library
  • Residential visits