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Pre-Formal SEMH

Pre Formal curriculum overview SEMH


Pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) are more likely to have mental health difficulties than any other group. Therefore, the social and emotional wellbeing of pupils following the pre-formal pathway is central to the curriculum offer. We actively seek to support all of the pupils in developing a sense of self and having as much autonomy as is possible in their lives.

Respect is essential to develop self-worth. It is our intent that all of our pre-formal learners are treated with the utmost respect at all times. That their care needs are addressed sensitively and that everything that happens throughout the school day is done with them rather than to them.

Pre formal learners are as entitled as any other group to be social learners. We support them in being part of social groups, both within their classes and the wider school community.

To support emotional wellbeing everyone needs time to recharge, to be alone and to follow their own interests. We support our learners in following their interests in leisure time, these interests may be idiosyncratic, for example shaking beads or passing objects from hand but they are non the less valid and very meaningful to the individual.

Our pupils are faced with many complex barriers to their learning. They may have medical and physical issues that impact their well-being. The school day can be very tiring for them and pre-formal pupils may need frequent breaks to be by themselves, ground themselves through sensory activities or rest


The pre-formal SEMH curriculum is largely intrinsic, it is central to every activity and every interaction throughout the school day.

A sense of self

We support pupils in developing as rounded a sense of self as possible by teaching awareness of their face/ image

  • looking in mirrors, looking photos, videos etc,

Body awareness through

  • movement to music
  • dance massage,
  • Massage
  • Sherborne movement
  • Swimming/hydrotherapy
  • Rebound therapy

The choice is built into as many activities as possible. We carefully interpret pre-intentional communication to support pupils in communicating choices.

The learning environment is designed to allow all of the pupils to have as much control in activities as possible. For example, the use of A-frames, position boards etc. that respond to very minimal movement, the use of switches and IT access equipment.

Pupils are supported to take part in activities using hand underhand rather than hand over hand support so there is no compulsion to explore.

Being Social

Many of our pre-formal pupils enjoy being part of a social group. All pupils take part in some group activities each day. Most pupils have limited awareness of stimuli that is presented at a distance from them so activities are carefully structured to maximise engagement. Some pre-formal pupils find being part of a group very difficult; we balance teaching the skills to tolerate groups with a respect for the distress this can cause.

Pre formal pupils take part in the wider life of the school, for example, assemblies, performances, sports days, coffee mornings.


RSE for pre-formal pupils forms a part of the intrinsic SEMH curriculum. Key elements to the RSE curriculum are

  • Making choices as part of activities and interactions
  • Making a negative choice – saying no
  • Appropriate touch – staff ensure pupils are cued in before they are touched, that pupils remain clothed during activities that require touch such as story massage or movement to music other than hands or feet.
  • Age appropriateness – as they move through the school pupils are given as many opportunities to take part in activities common to other pupils of their age as possible, for example, music, popular culture, clothes etc.


We acknowledge the value of spirituality to everyone, including those with complex learning needs.

Pre formal classes have a time of reflection each day. This is a quiet time for the whole group – pupils and staff, to be together. The session is often multisensory and follows a familiar pattern to support the pupil’s memory and anticipation.  The session may celebrate a pupil or a religious festival or may focus on an element of the class theme – for example using images of nature, music or sound.


We seek to celebrate the faiths of our pupils’ families and the wider community in ways that are accessible to them. This includes

  • sharing multi-sensory faith stories
  • Taking part in whole school activities and celebrations
  • Visiting religious buildings

Independence and care routines

A substantial part of the school day for pre-formal learners is taken up in care routines. Most pupils will need some adult support to manage eating, drinking, dressing and toileting needs throughout their lives.

We teach all of the pupils to be as independent as they can be in all areas of their lives, both because it is practically useful and because any level of independence, however small, supports feelings of self-esteem.

We work with families and with therapists to devise programmes around eating, drinking, dressing and toileting.

For some of our pupils, maximum independence is achieved by being aware of what is happening to them.  Therefore pupils are cued in about what is going to happen using a range of strategies including body signs, objects of reference, photos, symbols, signs and words.

We endeavour to maintain the highest standards of respect for all our pupils by never discussing intimate care needs in a public space.


Research suggests that one of the main causes of poor mental health amongst pre-formal learners maybe boredom. We acknowledge that the high care needs of pre-formal classes together with the time taken to ensure everyone is in the appropriate position or piece of equipment can mean there are times when pupils are without direct adult input and are waiting.

We address this concern by planning activities that pupils can engage in independently, for example listening to music, sensory exploration etc. We also incorporate routine and careful use of cues so that pupils learn that the time they are waiting will be limited.

Curriculum coverage

Snack time and lunchtime 45mins each day

Intimate care 20 – 45 minutes each day

Reflection 15 mins daily

Faith-based story/reflection 30 mins weekly


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.

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