Pre-formal PMLD Curriculum

“Let’s focus on the things that matter”

Defining Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD)

Learners with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) are on a spectrum that indicates that they have profoundly complex learning needs. In addition to profound learning difficulties, learners are likely, though not in all cases to have other significant difficulties such as physical disabilities, sensory impairments and/or severe medical conditions. Learners require a high level of adult support, both for their learning needs and also for their personal care.

They are likely to benefit from engagement across all senses and will need a curriculum which recognises that all learners will to a greater or lesser degree, have difficulties with object permanence, contingency awareness, declarative communications, making choices, learning by imitation and following instruction. Learners generally communicate by facial expression, body language and other non-verbal methods.

 (Imray and Colley, 2017, p45)

A Person-Centred and Holistic Curriculum for Learners with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties.

The aim of this document is to evaluate and to update the current curricular provision for learners with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) of any and all ages in order to provide a coherent and consistent approach to their education.

Breadth and Balance

Education should not and must not be tokenistic just for the sake of ticking a box. For those with PMLD, time in education is limited and precious, and we are duty bound not to waste it”.

Whilst we accept the desirability of providing a broad and balanced curriculum, it must be wholly appropriate to the needs of each learner. Ongoing assessment may point to a need for concentration and intensity in one or two particular areas for some learners for a part, and sometimes a considerable part of their time in education. A learner might, for example, like people and enjoy spending time with them, but have not yet learned how to take the initiative in engaging with another person.

When left to her own devices, the learner might have a tendency towards stimulatory, repetitive self-injurious behaviour such as biting her own hand, and staff might therefore consider it essential for the learner’s well-being to teach her to positively and clearly indicate that she wants to spend some time with another person(s). In this instance, we argue, it is absolutely essential that we narrow the curriculum offered to this particular learner in order to give her the maximum amount of time for learning, recognising that someone with PMLD may need hundreds and perhaps even thousands of opportunities to learn what for others might be a simple skill.

For those with a profound learning difficulty, learning is best done when the learner is placed at the centre of the Curriculum“.


Barry Carpenter and colleagues are persuasive in their insistence that the burning question for teachers in the 21st Century is how to engage learners, and this process of engagement must be at the heart of any curriculum development (Carpenter et al, 2015). For those with a profound learning difficulty, learning is best done when the learner is placed at the centre of the curriculum and where every moment and situation is regarded as a learning opportunity (Welsh Assembly Government, 2006). It may be argued for example, that necessities like toileting and positional changes directly impinge upon schools’ ability to educate, since doing them efficiently, safely and with care and consideration, takes up so much of the working day.  These are however, precisely the areas of learning which challenge us to use learning time effectively. 

This is probably not a curriculum like other curriculums and it is not laid out like other curriculums, not even Equals’ Semi-Formal Curriculum designed for those with SLD and MLD. It will not tell you what to teach now and what to teach next. It will not give you a body of knowledge that it is essential for learners to know because there is no such thing. It is the learners who will decide the direction learning will take; teachers (and TAs) can only help to build routines, facilitate change, offer alternatives, observe and guide.

This then is a curriculum of ideas; which ones you use are up to you, but their success will depend upon the pupils and students you teach.

Classroom Organisation

An essential part of engagement is to recognise that the complexity of their learning difficulties will mean that learners with PMLD cannot, and do not, learn effectively when taught in a compartmentalised and piecemeal manner (Ware, 2003; Welsh Assembly Government, 2006; Lacey, 2010; Imray and Hinchcliffe, 2014). In practice this means that we have to aim for as much consistency and continuity as possible, not just in what we teach, but how we teach and who is doing the teaching. With this in mind, I strongly recommend that the school organises its days around specific Class Groups taught by the same core staff of Teacher and TAs, and seeks to hold these Class Groups together over time. 


Transitions will always be key part of all learners’ lives at any educational establishment and they are always bound to be challenging whoever you are. For someone with PMLD however, when so much emphasis has to be placed on staffs’ deep and intimate knowledge of the learner, transitions can be fraught and anxiety inducing times.

There are of course major transitions such as to a new school, a post 19 college, a community care setting, a residential setting, a hospital stay, and in these situations it will be essential to pass on the learner’s Personal Communication Passport and timetable. We also however, need to look to less obvious transitions, such as to a new class or a new class team or a new therapist and the even more mundane transitions to different teams of staff at break times, lunch times, home times etc. when at least the learner’s Passport will be handed over.

There is a recording above for an Equals Online CPD session by Peter Imray; our Director of Developments.

Peter Imray talks about the Equals Pre-formal (PMLD) Curriculum. Equals members can attend the live online CPD sessions for 100% FREE.

For further information please contact the Equals Strategic Development Manager; Paul Buskin by emailing or using 0191 272 1222

To place an order please click on the ‘Download Order Form’ button below.
You can also order by email, by contacting
Pre-formal (PMLD) Curriculum Cost: £259 members or £499 non-members

To view details for the Equals Online Training and Conferences please visit the » Events Section

For further information please visit » Equals Informal/Semi-formal Curriculum Development Days

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