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Complex Learning Environment

Complex curriculum  – learning environment

Pupils with PMLD and CLDD learn in different ways from their peers therefore for them to learn effectively lessons will look different. Learning is likely to be individualised rather than differentiated. Effective lessons may involve all of the pupils doing different things, sometimes supported by an adult, sometimes exploring an enabling environment independently. Some pupils may be learning at the table, others may be learning on the floor or whilst moving around the classroom.

Teachers need to consider both opportunities for direct teaching and the continuous provision in planning to optimise learing and teaching within the complex curriculum.

To best support learning staff need to consider the following when developing their classroom environment:

Active learning – provide opportunities for pupils to engage with materials independently and on their own terms. Many of the approaches advocated by Lili Nielsen including use of resonance boards, attribute trays, mobiles/ A frames, scratch position and grab boards etc.

Messy work Many pupils are very motivated by messy work. Opportunities to engage in messy work should be available to the pupils as part of their continuous provision and as taught sessions.

Structured learning – many pupils following the complex curriculum benefit from a structured approach to learning. Activities might include use of TEACCH and PECS. Classes may have teacch stations that remain in place throughout the day or may make low distraction learning spaces for some sessions.

Story sharing a range of high-quality resources that meets the needs of the group. This could include books, class made books, sensory stories, massage stories etc.

Problem solving / investigation A range of sensory toys and equipment and early problem-solving equipment such as construction and loose parts play

Sensory diet Equipment to support sensory diet needs in the classroom, for example scoot boards, rocking chairs etc. Sensory diet programmes that use the wider school environment.

We acknowledge that managing sensory inputs and complex medical needs can be tiring for some of our pupils. They may need time to ‘ground’ themselves and to rest. This means there will be time during the school day when pupils are not engaged in learning activities. We also acknowledge that pupils will spend time engaged in activities that are important to them that can seem unconventional to others, perhaps spinning or moving their hands in front of their face. These activities are a part of our pupils personalities and as such are accepted and celebrated.

Multi sensory environment We aim to provide pupils with as wide a range of sensory inputs as possible. Therefore, we consider all sensory modalities when planning lessons. We also consider use of smell and music as part of continuous provision.

IT can be very motivating to many of our pupils and can provide a means of access for pupils who have physical difficulties, for example through the use of switches or eye gaze technology. IT is used across the curriculum as a direct teaching tool and to allow pupils to generalise skills when working independently. However time spent using screens must be carefully considered and staff need to ensure that pupils do not spend long periods of time in front of screens.

Cues Staff need to cue pupils’ in to what is going on around them and what is going to happen next to support the development of their receptive language, to develop autonomy and to reduce anxiety. Classes need to have an individualised system of cues for each pupil that is followed consistently by all staff. Cues may include

  • Object cues
  • Objects of reference
  • On body signing / TaSSels
  • Photos
  • Symbols
  • Sign
  • Key word language
  • Music cues


Some pupils following the complex curriculum may need information about what is happening in ‘the here and now’, these pupils will need to be cued in immediately before a transition. Others may be moving on to using now and next boards or more complex visual timetables.

A visual timetable that clearly shows the curriculum focus of the current session needs to be available in all classes to support any visitors to class in understanding the learning focus of the session. This timetable could be on a screen or in any form the teacher feels is appropriate for the group


Classes following the complex curriculum follow the whole school expectations around planning.

Short term planning can use any format that works for the class but must include details of the learning intention, activity resources and staffing. A separate ILI documents can be referenced if this is easier to manage.

Short term planning must include details of activities to be provided as part of the class continuous provision.

Short term planning must reference changes made to develop engagement as a result of engagement observations.

Medium term planning must cover all areas of the complex curriculum

  • Communication
  • Cognition
  • Physical development
  • Sensory
  • SEMH (which includes autonomy and independence)

Engagement profiles are updated termly at half term

ILIS are updated termly at half term

Age appropriateness

Pupils following the complex curriculum pathway will be functioning at an early stage of development throughout their time in school. As they mature careful consideration needs to be given to the materials used to stimulate them. The highest quality stimuli are multisensory so in many cases, real objects are more flexible than plastic toys. Wherever possible staff should select equipment that is respectful of the pupils’ chronological age.

Meaningful learning opportunities for pupils need to be motivating in themselves. To maximise this motivation staff need to use a playful practice approach (Margaret Corke). We consider playfulness to be both respectful and age-appropriate.

Care Routines

Pupils following the complex curriculum need a high level of support throughout the school day to manage their care needs. These care routines are not seen as sitting outside the curriculum, they provide valuable learning opportunities for pupils to develop their skills.

At some times during the school day supporting pupils in care routines will take up a significant amount of staff time. The learning environment needs to be designed to allow pupils to continue to actively engage in learning by accessing (or having the opportunity to access) the continuous provisions


The impact of learning opportunities is assessed on an ongoing daily basis through careful staff observation. Impact is evidenced using the Evidence for Learning online system. We use the engagement model to assess pupil engagement across the range of learning opportunities given to pupils following the complex curriculum pathway.   We expect at least 1 observation each week for each pupil using the engagement model and use the approach as a basis for our moderation process.

Progress is assessed termly using the Vale of Evesham Routes assessment tool. A small minority of pupils following the complex curriculum pathway who have an area of strength in literacy or numeracy may also be assessed using the Vale Assessment Framework (V levels).

We work collaboratively with parents and other professionals to set long-term  targets as part of pupil EHCP reviews. These long term targets are broken down into termly Individual learning intentions (ILIS). Progress against ILIS, the engagement scale and profile and the Vale Routes assessment tool is discussed termly in a professional conversation between teachers, the Complex curriculum lead and SLT.