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Pre-Formal Communication

Pre Formal curriculum overview Communication


At the Vale of Evesham School, we recognise that all of our pre-formal learners have a right to be ‘heard’.  For this group of learners, much of their communication will be pre-intentional, learners are dependent on the support of sensitive adults to interpret their vocalisations and body language. Some of our pupils are in the early stages of intentional communication and use a wide variety of strategies to communicate. We aim to provide all of the pupils with a rich and engaging curriculum in a responsive environment that motivates them as communicators.


The pre-formal communication curriculum at the Vale of Evesham school aims to

  • Embed the use of communication through a Total Communication approach so that pupils can communicate effectively with others in a range of social situations and the world around them.
  • Respect all pupils as effective communicators by holding Intensive Interaction as central to our communication approach.
  • Optimise attention skills for all pupils so they can engage in independent exploration and in some cases can develop joint attention so they can communicate with others about things that interest them.
  • Provide a rich and varied range of literacy activities to develop a love of story


  • Communication is taught both as an integral part of every activity throughout the school day and as a focus for at least one session each day.
  • Each pupil had an individual plan for learning for communication that details the learning experiences they will receive.
  • Communication learning takes place a in range of contexts. New learning in communication is developed working 1:1 with an adult. We see all learners as potential independent learners and use an active learning approach to support this. We value our pre formal learners as social beings and provide opportunities to communicate as part of a small or larger group.

 Receptive communication

A variety of strategies are used to support pupils understanding of what is happening throughout the day, to allow them to make choices and have a sense of control. These include

  • Object cues
  • Objects of reference
  • Personal signifiers
  • Tassels on body signs
  • Photo cues
  • Symbols
  • Now / then boards
  • Visual timetables
  • Sign
  • Speech
  • Musical cues

Expressive communication

  • Interaction
  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Eye contact
  • Gestures and pointing
  • Signing (Signalong)
  • Vocalisations
  • Use of objects of reference
  • Use of low and High-Tech AAC
  • PECS
  • Speech


We recognise that attention is a developmental skill and that our pre-formal pupils will have very significant delays in their attention skills. To best facilitate learning we provide opportunities to communicate that are pupil-led and with any external content-intensive interaction. We also work to support pupils in developing their ability to attend to a stimulus, to switch attention between stimuli, and to share attention about a stimulus with another person – joint attention.

We use the attention autism approach to support this learning.

We recognise that pre-formal learners need have consistent experiences over a considerable period of time in order to learn new skills and to be able to generalise them. We also recognise the need to provide stimulating, creative, highly individualised multisensory learning experiences to engage pupils. Over a term pupils have the opportunity to learn to communicate in sessions that include:

  • Sensology
  • Resonance board/ clonker board
  • Music/ sounds of intent
  • Massage
  • Dance massage
  • Sensory room
  • Sensory art
  • Sensory cooking
  • Forest school/learning outside the classroom
  • PE
  • Sherborne movement


We recognise that all pupils have the right to access high-quality story activities. Pre formal pupils have daily access to a story that is meaningful to them. Activities include

  • Sensory stories
  • Bag Books
  • Personal stories / factual sensory stories
  • Call and response story and drama
  • Multi-sensory drama
  • Massage stories
  • Photobooks
  • Tactile books

Prerequisite Reading skills

Some pupils who follow the pre-formal curriculum pathways will progress on to the semi-formal pathway. Others may continue on the pre-formal pathway but have a ‘spike’ in their skills around reading. The pre-formal communication curriculum supports learning of the essential prerequisite skills for reading including

  • Understanding of objects – generalisation, symbolic understanding
  • Understanding of pictures – Tobis, photographs, symbols, and illustrations
  • Language, words, rhythm, and rhyme

Routes for Literacy provides a framework to outline how pre-requisite skills link to semi-formal learning in reading.

Recording Ideas

Most pupils following the pre-formal pathway will communicate   ‘ in the moment’. Some will begin to record ideas using a range of strategies including

  • Photographs
  • Symbols
  • IT packages such as clicker
  • Mark making / developmental writing

We use a range of strategies to help all pupils make links with repeated activities and to remember significant events. These include

  • Multisensory cues
  • Sensory stories based around real events
  • Photobooks
  • IT

Routes for Literacy provides a framework to outline how pre-requisite skills link to semi-formal writing.

Curriculum Coverage

  • All pupils will have at least one session each day that has a primary focus on communication.
  • Al pupils will have a daily session based around a story
  • Coverage of recording ideas will be based on individual needs.

Age appropriateness

As our pupils, mature consideration should be given to provide them with resources that are respectful of their chronological age. However, decisions around resources are nuanced and need to take into account that a pupil may have worked over an extended period of time to develop skill around a particular resource so any move away from that resource needs to be planned and considered.

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 expressive and receptive communication 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.

Progress in communication 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 including speech and language therapists to set long-term communication targets as part of pupil EHCP reviews. All pupils will have at least 1 target around their communication needs.