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Communication, Phonics & Reading

English for pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties

Pupils at Bluebell Park School who experience profound and multiple learning difficulties have the same entitlement to develop literacy skills as those following the National Curriculum programmes of study and since all our PMLD pupils are functioning at cognitive levels significantly below their chronological ages it is appropriate that they are included in our literacy aims regardless of age.

Setting aside specific times each day is regarded as being inappropriate for PMLD pupils as they invariably have great difficulties maintaining concentration and attention. More realistically and effectively they should be immersed in on-going, multi-sensory experiences to foster emergent literacy skills and awareness through all aspects of their daily routines and work. Guided by an application of early childhood development plus an understanding of how their learning is affected by their disabilities we can offer the experiences which are the foundation of early learning for all developmentally young pupils.

All pupils must experience and retain a series of pre-requisites to learning in order to move on to develop recognised skills in literacy. These pre-requisites include self-awareness, a sense of rhythm, pattern and order and communication skills.

For most of our PMLD pupils gaining these requisites will be a continuous process throughout their time at school. In terms of progression we recognise that the usual hierarchical model is not realistic for PMLD pupils – a more appropriate one is horizontal. These pupils move on in very small steps – some of which are imperceptible to those who do not know them well and once achieved these steps are easily lost without continuous reinforcement. As most of our pupils will not move beyond this requisite stage we must be skilled at presenting the same learning goal in different ways. We also recognise that some pupils may regress and lose skills or need to redevelop skills previously learned. To monitor pupils’ achievements, there are pockets of pupils in the school which are assessed against documents such as Quest, ABLLS and AFLS which offer breath of development as well as progression.


In order for those of our children with multiple learning difficulties to become communicators a multidisciplinary approach, using the skills of the teacher, occupational therapist and the speech and language therapist, will enable the child/young person to find the means to make his/her needs, feelings and ideas known. Intensive Interaction & Attention Autism strategies are used to support the development of pre-linguistic skills that are a foundation for children becoming independent communicators e.g. turn taking, sharing and vocalisation.

Staff can help the child to become as independent a communicator as possible by giving attention to:-

  • how the child calls for attention
  • how the child greets
  • how the child indicates yes/no
  • how the child indicates his/her needs
  • how the child makes choices
  • how the child gives more complex information
  • how the child asks questions
  • how the child interrupts
  • how the child expresses emotions
  • how the child initiates and terminates communication
  • how well the child is understood by familiar people
  • how well strangers can understand the child

At Bluebell Park we believe in the philosophy of Total Communication, incorporating all forms of communication into our practice. We currently hold an award as a Makaton friendly school.

Phonics and Reading.

All pupils at Bluebell Park School have regular access to high quality literature. Their reading progression route will be determined by their class teacher depending on their current needs and abilities. For those pupils learning to read, the school uses Bug Club as its main phonics scheme and staff have undertaken training. This is a research based and DFE approved phonics and reading scheme. Phonics is taught throughout the entire school and staff are assess and record using the school wide assessment tool. Evidence is also captured through Evidence for Learning.

Pre-readers phonics sessions are typically cross-curricular with music and sensory sessions in order to motivate and capture the attention of these pupils. For pupils who have achieved the skills outlined in the pre-readers section, a more structured approach to systematic synthetic phonics is recommended. Many of our pre-readers attend extracurricular activities such as choir and drum club encouraging them to refine their listening skills and follow a beat.

Reading is encouraged for all pupils in the following way:

Shared Reading

Through the use of enlarged texts via big books, ICT and high quality fiction books, the child will become more independent in reading material that would otherwise be too difficult. When using these books in ‘shared reading’ the teacher takes responsibility for decoding, but at the same time the activity allows for, but does not demand, active participation. It allows the child to learn at his/her own rate.

The school will encourage the child where appropriate:

  • to distinguish between print and pictures
  • to recognise that words have meaning
  • to understand one to one correspondence of spoken word to written word
  • to understand that print is read from left to right and top to bottom
  • to read the left page before the right
  • to understand the meaning of capital letters and full stops
  • to learn the conventions of title, author, illustrator
  • to learn that information books have a contents page, index, glossary; that they do not necessarily have to be read from beginning to end
  • to predict, retell the story
  • to acquire language skills taught in context
  • word recognition
  • phonic knowledge e.g. initial sounds, rhyme
  • graphic knowledge e.g. plurals: ing ‘ed’ endings, contractions, don’t, can’t
  • grammatical language e.g. full stop, question mark, capital letter, word, sentence
  • reading for meaning: – pause at full stops and not at the end of a line, read with expression.

Guided and Independent Reading

The school will provide suitable reading materials to provide structure for both the teacher and the child. Currently the school utilises a selection of reading books taken from a range of different reading schemes as advised by the LEA Literacy Consultant. This is to ensure pupils have the opportunity to read a range of texts at an appropriate level. We appreciate that children may remain at the same reading level for many years and using only one scheme would limit the books accessible.

The school will provide a range of books specially selected for older readers who continue to work at a lower level. Teaching staff will ensure that reading material is appropriate to the age and development of individual children. The school will provide a range of high quality children’s literature to give breadth and balance to reading content and also to help the child to recognise and increase his/her understanding of the diversity of beliefs, attitudes and social and cultural traditions.

The child will be encouraged:-

  • to learn letter names, sounds and alphabetical order
  • to recognise initial sounds and some common digraphs
  • to establish a store of familiar words that are recognised immediately and linked to their meanings
  • to use picture cues
  • to decode regular monosyllabic words
  • to use a range of phonic initial and final phonic sounds and some blends
  • to recognise that some words can be decoded by ‘chunking’
  • to find information by reading illustrations
  • to express opinions about books and stories
  • to listen and have the opportunity to learn by heart, rhymes, jingles and simple poems by recognised authors
  • to recognise rhyming words, rhythm and alliteration
  • to recognise the difference between stories and information books
  • to use information books for simple reference purposes
  • to use alphabetical order, a simple dictionary and thesaurus to aid their studies
  • to make and read his/her own books

The school will ensure that as the child becomes a more experienced reader he/she will enjoy a widening range of reading materials, will read silently from choice, manage the reading necessary in most curriculum areas and develop a more extensive range of comprehension skills through the reading scheme, class and library books and ICT activities.

The school will ensure that the older child, whose reading has progressed more slowly, will be encouraged to listen to a wide range of stories to enjoy picture books which have been chosen as appropriate for his/her age and ability be provided with age appropriate readers with manageable texts and to develop a social sight vocabulary which will enable him/her to function safely and sensibly in the wider community.

Wherever possible the school will facilitate and encourage parents to become reading partners assisting the pupil by sharing his/her interest and pleasure in reading and by reading ‘to’ and ‘with’ the learner reader.

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