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Pre-Formal Cognition

Pre Formal curriculum overview Cognition


The cognition curriculum supports pre-formal learners in making sense of the world around them, actively exploring a range of stimuli, and developing resilience.

More able pre-formal learners may develop an awareness of quantity and an understanding of concepts.

At the Vale of Evesham school, we consider that all of our pupils can be independent learners if they are provided with appropriate learning opportunities.


All pupils following the pre-formal curriculum pathway have an individual plan for learning for cognition which outlines the learning opportunities that they will access for a block of time, usually a term. Teaching supports the pupils to develop their skills in

  • Keeping track of objects
  • Changing focus
  • Connecting actions to outcomes
  • Developing actions in a physical environment
  • Solving problems
  • Developing skills around numbers and counting
  • Understanding concepts
  • Developing skills in organising materials – matching and sorting

At least one lesson each day focuses on cognition. Given the very different starting points in learning most of the learning takes place on a 1:1 basis.

Some pupils, particularly those who benefit from a highly structured approach, access learning using the TEACCH approach.

Some more able pre-formal learners will learn as part of a small group on some occasions.

We embrace the philosophy of Lili Neilsen in seeing our pupils as active learners and provide them with a wide range of activities and equipment to explore independently. These activities include

  • Activity frame
  • Little room
  • Resonance board
  • Position board


IT provides our pre-formal pupils with a range of motivating learning opportunities. The use of switches and other modalities such as Eye Gaze allows pupils to access a range of activities increasingly independently. We use the Vale of Evesham switch progression document to structure learning in this area.

Curriculum coverage

All pupils will have at least one session each day that focuses on cognitive skills

Age appropriateness

Pupils following the pre-formal 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 pre-formal 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.

 Prerequisite skills for maths

Some pupils will move on to the semi-formal curriculum pathway. Others who remain on the pre-formal pathway will have a particular strength in one or more areas of cognition. Routes to numeracy provide links from the cognition curriculum into maths learning.

Care Routines

Pre formal learners 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 cognitive skills.


The impact of learning opportunities is assessed on an ongoing daily basis through careful staff observation. Learning is evidenced using video and photographs. From September 2021 impact will be 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 pre-formal pathway.   We expect at least 2 observations each week for each pupil using the engagement model and use the approach as a basis for our moderation process.

Progress in cognition is assessed termly using the routes for learning framework and the Vale of Evesham follow on Routes for learning frameworks.

We work collaboratively with parents and other professionals to set long-term cognition targets as part of pupil EHCP reviews.