Complex Learning Difficulties And Disabilities Research Project

Promising CLDD approaches

As part of the CLDD research project, we saw many examples of good practice which supported effective teaching and learning of students with CLDD.

We invited the Phase 1 schools, who were involved with the development of the Engagement resources, to describe approaches within their schools which they found effective for supporting students with CLDD.
The following descriptions were submitted under the headings 'Transdisciplinary practice', 'Supporting emotional wellbeing' and 'Creativity for students with CLDD'. If you would like to know more, please contact the school listed.
Please note that publication on this web page is to raise awareness of possible approaches, and should not be considered as endorsement.

Shared goals / transdisciplinary practice
St Nicholas School, Canterbury
In 2007, St Nicholas School developed a transdisciplinary ‘Shared goals’ initiative in recognition that all professionals working with our most complex students needed to pool their work to maximise the benefits for the individual students.
We also wanted to involve parents and carers in the educational planning within school to create a truly holistic and supportive approach to the student’s development and learning.
Today, all professionals involved with students with CLDD attend a regular planning meeting with the family (a minimum of six per year) to assess / review / plan / adapt their approaches. The transdisciplinary ‘Shared goals’ process is also regularly reviewed and changes are made to improve it.
The key benefits of the approach to our students are: 

  • Interlinking goals from different disciplines with a common aim and clear direction/strategies
  • Transdisciplinary working – therapists get regular information about the student’s progress even if they cannot physically be with/work with the student
  • The setting of SMART targets, which are individual to the pupil, with small steps, showing clear progress
  • A focus on functional skills, ‘real skills that matter’, that will make a real impact on the student’s life
  • Ability to show real achievement.
Other key benefits include:
  • Parents and carers are central to the whole process and part of the ‘Shared goals’ target setting team
  • Teaching staff at the school get a clear programme of how to best work with the student to optimise their individual learning and functional skills development
  • It generates high quality, reliable student progress and management data for the SMT
  • It is an opportunity for teachers to work with a body of professionals.
This is a truly shared approach – transdisciplinary, with the student at the centre.

St Nicholas is a community day special school providing education for 187 children and young people who have special educational needs aged between 4 and 19. The school caters for a wide range of learning disabilities - severe learning difficulties, profound learning difficulties, complex learning difficulties, autism and sensory impairment.

Paul Butler
Using ‘Team around the child’ in a school setting
Dawn House School, Rainworth
Dawn House School (DHS) has adapted the ‘team around the child’ model of collaboration to their school setting.  Each class has a Core team, including the class teacher, a speech and language therapist (SLT) and the teaching assistants (TA).  Colleagues from other disciplines (eg occupational therapist (OT)) also contribute as necessary.
Prior to a placement at DHS each student receives a two-day assessment carried out jointly by an SLT and a senior teacher. Once enrolled, each student is assigned to an SLT who supports their SLCN.
SLTs are involved in planning lessons with teachers and TAs as part of the Core team. This enables the class team to plan for the specific SLCN of their students, the learning and teaching styles needed, and the SLT targets for the individual students. As well as more traditional support, SLTs deliver some of the teaching in lessons and support small groups of students.
Other professionals who may belong or contribute to the Core team include: 
  • the school’s OT – who advises about highly specific OT strategies to be delivered within the classroom
  • a key worker (for students in residential care) – who has a pastoral brief
  • a learning mentor – with a dyslexia specialism
  • an emotional wellbeing mentor – with a psychiatric nursing and teaching background.
The joint planning allows teachers, TAs and SLTs to bring together and co-deliver targets from all aspects of a child’s educational, communication, social and emotional development.
This collaborative approach between different professional groups allows the school to support the complex and varied needs of the students in the best way. The school has a high CVA score of 1048.0, which shows that students exceed progress predictions.
Dawn House School (DHS) is a non maintained special school run by the charity I CAN, which supports children with Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and Asperger Syndrome. Dawn House has specialist status for communication and interaction.  The school is for students between the ages of 5 and 19, offering a Further Education department for post 16 students and Residential Care, and currently has 78 students on roll.
Christina Wright
Assistant headteacher
Using PASS to support students’ emotional wellbeing
Abbey Hill School, Stockton-on-Tees
At Abbey Hill School, the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) assessment is used annually to identify ‘at risk students’ who find it difficult to engage in the curriculum.
Intervention for identified students includes opportunities to take part in a small gardening group run by two senior students. The group works within the local community and enables the students to work on real jobs.
The ‘at risk students’ are also part of a group with a higher teacher:student ratio.  This enables teaching staff to establish intense, supportive relationships that provide the base from which students can try new activities. Positive feedback is an important part of how this group functions.
The students say that the group has helped them realise what they have to do. They invest the effort, and then can see the results of their effort immediately.  Students then build upon their experience of success and enhanced self worth in other situations, transferring and applying new skills.

Abbey Hill School, with Westlands School, is a Federation of two special schools. Together, they serve a population of 420 students aged 5 to 19 with a broad range of learning difficulties, making the Federation one of the largest SEN provisions in the UK.

Bill Dingwall
Assistant headteacher
iMUSE – Interactive Multi-Sensory Environments
Holly Bank School, Mirfield
Interactive Multi-Sensory Environments, or iMUSE, is a programme which uses interactive music, sound, visual and vibration stimulation to reduce participants' stress and anxiety levels. It offers them an interactive music, sound, visual and vibration stimulation experience.  Sessions are personalised to each student using low frequency sound to reduce pain, stress and anxiety thereby freeing them to think, communicate and learn independently.

Within the school’s iMUSE environment, we also include ‘Soundbeam’, which enables students to use their own movements and sounds to create and manipulate music, and ‘G-force’, which enables students, who cannot take part in traditional art activities, to paint with sound.
Individual 20-40 minute person centred iMUSE sessions enable students to progress from being passive to active and ultimately creative learners. Students’ creations can be recorded and printed to give a lasting record of their achievement. iMUSE celebrates the participants’ movements and sounds and gives them ownership of their work – a great achievement as their experiences are often very limited due to the complexity of their disabilities and medical needs.
Some students’ images, created using iMUSE, are being sold for respectable amounts thereby creating meaningful work opportunities for our students as they leave school.

The iMUSE programme used at Holly Bank has been developed in consultation with Professor Phil Ellis of Sunderland University, a leading expert in the use of vibro-acoustic therapy.

Hollybank Trust provides education and care for children, young people and adults with complex disabilities and medical needs. We are a Specialist SEN provision for physical and sensory needs and this drives our vision for empowering our students to become active communicators and creative learners despite their profound needs.

Ailsa Moore, Deputy headteacher / Lyn Pollard, Headteacher