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Specialist Schools Curriculum Statement

We're committed to providing a broad, balanced, inspiring and challenging curriculum for our students.

It prepares them for adulthood. It's ambitious about the life they can lead after they leave school. And it supports them to progress towards a valued lifestyle, into employment or on to college.

We want our special school students to become valued members of the wider community, with positive self-worth. To help them reach their full potential, we'll focus on developing their confidence, resilience and independence, so they have agency when facing the challenges of adult life, as a person with a disability.

We provide learning opportunities that are appropriately structured for the children’s individual special educational needs. For this reason, in each special academy, curriculum delivery has been broken down into four distinct pathways. This helps to best meet learner needs across the school, and across the age range from 2-19 years.


The Core Co-op Values underpinning the way we work

Self-help – helping themselves to improve and make a positive contribution to society

Self-responsibility – taking responsibility for, and answer to their actions

Democracy – through having a say in how we run our Trust and the academies

Equality – making sure the voice of each individual can be heard

Equity – a fair and unbiased community

Solidarity – sharing interests and common purposes for the benefit of all 

The Trust, including each academy and its governing council, is expected to work to the co-operative ethical values of:

Openness – We believe in being open, sharing information and ideas to improve the lives of children and young people

Honesty – We are professional and respectful manner with everyone

Social responsibility – we maximise our impact on those in our communities while minimising our footprint on the world

Caring for others – we treat everyone as we wish to be treated ourselves, understanding that children and young people have one childhood

Everyone in the Trust is expected to honour the fundamental commitment to the values and principles above plus our Ways of Being Co-op. All of our academies include the word ‘Co-op’ in their name. We ask all staff to include aspects of the Ways of Being Co-op in the performance management process.

Ways of Being Co-op

Be yourself, always

Do what matters most

Show you care

Succeed together


Structure of the ‘Four Pathways’ model

In both primary and secondary, the special academies provide a consistent structure that offers four distinct ‘curriculum pathways’. These are the groupings that help organise students into their classes according to:

  • age
  • stage of development
  • an understanding of the impact of their SEND needs on their learning

Primary phase

Each pathway within the primary phase curriculum follows a 3 year long term plan which is appropriate to the specific needs of the pathway. Termly programmes of study are then used by teachers to plan and develop sequences of lessons which are personal to the group of pupils they teach.

This ensures there is maximum opportunity for pupils to experience a broad and balanced curriculum. So they can develop knowledge and skills, whilst being able to access individual lessons, which motivate and engage using specialist SEND teaching strategies.


  • Communication language and literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Physical development (PE)
  • Understanding the world (Geography, History, Science, RE)
  • Personal emotional and social development (PHSE incl RSE)
  • Expressive arts and design (Music, Art and Design)

Early Years Pathway (2 – 5 year olds)

This pathway aims to provide its students with a safe and nurturing learning environment. One where forming positive relationships and building trust with new people is at the heart of everything they do. Each child is supported to access their new environment which is suitable for a range of additional needs. The pathway aims to identify the most effective methods of communication and teaching strategies - to open up the child’s ability to engage with learning at school. The EYFS Framework, continuous provision and focused activity in the classroom, with observation and assessment of engagement and response is a key focus.

The pathway aims to identify ‘what matters most’ for each individual child to create the most fitting learning path for them to proceed into.

We work with families collaboratively to ensure the individual needs of the children are met. Learners are encouraged to thrive within the first part of their education. This is achieved through events, sharing of students’ wow moments and a range of day-day communications with families.

The pathway provides opportunities for new and exciting experiences, whilst accessing the range of additional provision the academy has to offer.

PMLD Pathway 

Most of the pupils within this pathway have profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). Some of these children have complex medical needs. Some are wheelchair users and some are ambulant.

This curriculum pathway employs holistic methods to support the learners’ development and this includes physical development and their medical wellbeing. Through providing multi sensory experiences, this pathway offers developmentally appropriate learning opportunities for all pupils. The curriculum in this Pathway has been carefully designed in a way which enables our pupils to access and learn about the world around them in a meaningful and enjoyable way, as well as learn fundamental skills to help them engage with people around them and their immediate environment. The complexity of our pupils needs is recognised and we teach through a multi-sensory approach to ensure maximum engagement of our pupils. 

This pathway prompts pupils’ advocacy and the development of their ‘voice’ in choices about their life.

The key intent for the curriculum in this pathway is to develop the skills of engagement on the part of the pupil, and through this to cultivate the habit of participation in learning.

Communication Pathway 

The pupils in this pathway are pupils who thrive in structured environments with predictable routines. By providing this structure, this pathway aims to decrease anxiety and offer opportunities for learners to maximise their learning potential.  These pupils may have Autism, others may not but are confident and regulated in the more structured environment. 

Communication is explored and developed using a range of specialist methods, and teachers will seek to provide irresistible opportunities to engage. Making choices and having needs and wants met is a key priority for this pathway. 

This curriculum pathway is designed to promote the exploration of feelings, teaching methods for self-regulation and developing positive learning behaviours to help prepare the children for the next stages in their lives and education. The learning environment is set up to allow pupils to be mobile but engaged in more formal learning opportunities, and to use concrete real-life objects and experiences to give context to the curriculum.

Cognition Pathway 

The children in the cognition pathway are the most able pupils, who require a curriculum that promotes the maximum independence for the pupils. The learning opportunities for the pupils in the cognition pathway are in line with the National Curriculum subjects in order to support the breadth and challenge appropriate to this cohort.

Teaching in this curriculum pathway offers opportunities for demonstration of skills through exciting activities in lessons. This will support the introduction of increasingly complex and abstract concepts, which can in turn support the pupils to develop long term memory of foundational learning in formal curriculum subjects.

Collaborative learning with peers will be a focus, whilst time-tabling will reflect more formal structured learning in subject-specific lessons.

This pathway aims to teach pupils vocational skills for life which will enable them to live as independently as possible in the next stages of their future.


Across all pathways in the primary phase, interventions are seen as a tool to ensure pupils have maximum opportunity to make the progress they are capable of.  Our priority is to offer academic and holistic interventions to address the range of barriers all pupils including the most disadvantaged may encounter.  


Secondary phase 

PMLD Pathway

The curriculum provides students with the means to express themselves, their likes and dislikes, to begin and finish an activity, and to initiate interaction with people, technologies and events. It involves the development of physical skills to sit, stand and walk as well as to develop actions such as reaching out, grasping and pressing. 

Teachers provide a responsive environment in which students can develop their attention that supports their sensory development. Teachers are sensitive to the student’s well-being and balance the curriculum learning with medical and therapeutic activities effectively. 

Adults take the time to get to know students very well and do not make assumptions about their quality of life, aspirations or previous experiences. There are opportunities to involve students in school life, giving time to consult and make choices. The curriculum provides opportunities for students to take more control over their environment. 

The implementation of the curriculum for learners with PIMD is supported by the acknowledgements made within the Rochford Review which led to the development of the Engagement Model. This is supported by research in cognitive psychology, and directs the work of teachers in this pathway towards content and activity that is meaningful and motivating to each individual learner.

Communication Pathway

The Communication and Interaction curriculum pathway aims to provide a range of learning opportunities and experiences, which are designed to meet the needs, interests and learning styles of students with ASC, SLCN and SLD. It has at its core the skills that underpin the development of learners with autistic spectrum conditions.

This curriculum is intended to enable students to:

  1. Understand the world around them.
  2. Communicate their needs effectively.
  3. Engage in positive social interaction.
  4. Develop flexibility of thought.
  5. Widen their range of interests.

For students within the pathway, ‘Sensory Processing’ and ‘Communication & Interaction’ are at the core of their curriculum offer, the primary focus is ensuring individuals are having their basic needs met, as a foundation on which to build:

  • That students are alert but not over-stimulated
  • That they can attend to learning and not be distracted by sensory stimuli
  • That they can communicate their wants and needs in a way that is understood and socially acceptable 

As students progress through the key stages and begin their preparation for adulthood there will be a greater focus on functional life skills. The emphasis will be on transferring and generalising skills in different contexts and into the wider community, with a view to building on their enthusiasms and skills in order to contribute and achieve meaningful success. 

The Communication and Interaction curriculum content is deeply personalised based on the teachers’ pedagogical understanding of how each autistic student learns best. Students’ basic needs and safety are at the forefront of the curriculum to enable all other learning to take place. Whilst teaching will largely be non-subject specific, the content is mapped to the National Curriculum so that coverage and progress over time can be 

The curriculum in this pathway requires the learning environment to  be established taking into account the difficulties of sensory over-stimulation that some young people experience. Teachers ensure that students have access to a range of educational spaces that offer different learning experiences; some may be low-stimulus and distraction-free, some may offer individual or 1:1 work and some may offer environments to stimulate senses; but all will contain visual supports and promote the need to be attentive, to initiate and to communicate. 

Cognition Pathway (Pathway 2 Independence – P2I)

Problem solving and effective communication are at the heart of the P2I curriculum. Developing thinking and problem solving skills are a necessity in equipping students with cognitive learning difficulties to function in a range of situations and apply their knowledge, skills and understanding to circumstances that may be unusual, unexpected and unpredictable. Independence is encouraged allowing for mistakes to be made, developing student’s resilience.

The P2I curriculum supports all students in their journey of personal development towards becoming active citizens. All students are encouraged to have a positive impact on the people and community around them. This includes having an understanding of safe choices both outside the home in the community and in the digital world. The P2I curriculum provides students with planned opportunities to develop key skills for applying number, reading and ICT in a range of contexts. Application of these skills in the real world is essential and reinforced in the classroom to prepare students for the next stage of their learning journey. 

The P2I curriculum aims to develop students’ ability to be autonomous which in turn will ensure all students have self worth and self respect. They will recognise positive attributes in themselves and others which are needed to succeed in the challenges of life. The development of the personal interests of each student maximises their engagement and potential. Spiritual Moral Social and Cultural opportunities give a broad and rich range of experiences to actively participate in local and national events.  

This curriculum is organised into six areas of learning: Communication, Thinking & Problem Solving, The World About Me, Creativity, Independence and My Body ensure that a breadth of learning opportunities are in place for every student, that are mapped to the National Curriculum to ensure coverage and progress over time. 

Vocational Pathway (6th Form)

The Vocational Curriculum Pathway caters for students aged between 16-19 years old who have progressed from the Cognition and Communication pathways post-16. Within Post-16 provision, the students will follow a timetable that covers core skills alongside life skills and work-related learning. The curriculum is delivered on a three-year rolling programme with each programme of study based on an ‘essential question’ designed to develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the world around them. These essential questions have either a vocational or real-world context that is linked to employability or adulthood. Careful curriculum planning ensures that knowledge and skills are embedded into long term memory to provide the foundation for progression to more complex tasks related to the realities of life after school.

Post-16 students are challenged to improve their skills of communication in order to meet personalised targets and/ or communicate in different environments (e.g. real-world scenarios that prepare pupils for adulthood such as speaking to a doctor in private). As students progress through the school and into Post-19/ spectrum of independent living the curriculum continues to promote reading as a practical and essential life skill.

Students for whom it is meaningful and achieveable will complete projects that will enable them to meet criteria necessary to achieve accredited qualifications in Functional Skills English, Maths and ICT. 

CEIAG is embedded throughout the curriculum using work experience scenarios in safe settings, visits from employers and service providers and off-site visits. 


More information

Assessment of progress in the curriculum

Across all of the key stages the primary method of assessment for children and young people with Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs) is through the identification of Personal Learning Goals, which are developed and agreed at each child’s Annual Review.

This ensures that the targets are achievable, yet challenging and motivating for each individual learner, and also that they are readily understood by parents and family members.

A wide range of additional assessment tools are also used which vary across the pathways according to the level of formal teaching and subject knowledge that is being assessed.

Learning outside the classroom

In our special academies we place an emphasis on the value of learning outside the classroom because:

  1. It helps children to transfer their learning of skills and knowledge from the learning environment into the real world;
  2. For children with SEND generalising their learning is another distinct step that must be actively taught;
  3. Different learners respond differently and positively in more open and natural spaces than the constrained environment of the SEND classroom;
  4. Preparation for life after school requires familiarity with a range of environments in the wider community that will have to inhabit in their future adult life.

Health and Therapies

Children with SEND often have associated health and therapy needs identified in their EHC plans. We believe it is essential that these services are provided in coordination with their education, seamlessly by a multi professional ‘team around the child’. 

For children with SEND to make good progress in their physical development and to achieve and maintain good health, is as essential a part of their curriculum, as their intellectual development and academic progress. Therefore we expect our special academies to prioritise this area of the curriculum equally to formal education.


Children with SEND are the most vulnerable to exploitation and accidental harm. For this reason, and in addition to requiring highly effective safeguarding practice by all of the adults employed in our special academies, we also expect the curriculum to enable children with SEND to develop their own understanding of all of the risks that they may be exposed to. And to learn and practice the skills of self-protection, increasing as they progress through the key stages and towards adulthood.

Dominic Wall, ​​Executive Principal & SEND Lead for Co-op Academies Trust

Emma Hardaker, Headteacher at Co-op Academy Delius