General Learning Difficulties

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General learning difficulties are where the impact of the child or young person’s cognitive difficulties extends across all areas of the school curriculum – and typically into non-curricular domains too.

For example, a pupil may have difficulties with their learning in literacy, numeracy, science etc., as well as with the acquisition of functional (‘daily living’) skills and their social-emotional development.

Challenges such as working memory difficulties or difficulties with speed of information processing may be part of the profile of needs.

These terms, all referring to general learning difficulties, may be encountered:

  • Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) – “Pupils with moderate learning difficulties will have attainments well below expected levels in all or most areas of the curriculum, despite appropriate interventions. Their needs will not be able to be met by normal differentiation and the flexibilities of the National Curriculum. Pupils with MLD have much greater difficulty than their peers in acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills and in understanding concepts. They may also have associated speech and language delay, low self-esteem, low levels of concentration and under-developed social skills.” (Department for Education & Skills, 2005)

  • Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) – “Pupils with severe learning difficulties have significant intellectual or cognitive impairments. This has a major effect on their ability to participate in the school curriculum without support. They may also have associated difficulties in mobility and co-ordination, communication and perception and the acquisition of self-help skills. Pupils with SLD will need support in all areas of the curriculum. They may also require teaching of self-help, independence and social skills. Some pupils may use sign and symbols but most will be able to hold simple conversations and gain some literacy skills.” (Department for Education & Skills, 2005)

  • Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) – “Pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties have severe and complex learning needs, in addition they have other significant difficulties, such as physical disabilities or a sensory impairment. Pupils require a high level of adult support, both for their learning needs and also for personal care. They are likely to need sensory stimulation and a curriculum broken down into very small steps. Some pupils communicate by gesture, eye pointing or symbols, others by very simple language.” (Department for Education & Skills, 2005)

  • Global Developmental Delay – This is typically defined as a delay in reaching developmental milestones in two or more of five developmental domains: speech and language; cognition; social and personal; gross and fine motor; activities of daily living. The term is often limited to children under 5 years of age, after which point MLD, SLD or PMLD may be used instead – and therefore it is usually encountered in Early Years practice.

Whereas it would reasonably be expected that children and young people with SLD or PMLD would require an Education, Health and Care Plan to help meet their needs, individuals with MLD may well have their needs met at SEN Support.

It would be anticipated that the majority of children and young people with MLD would attend a mainstream school.

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