Moderate Learning Difficulties - MLD

Article published 10th June 2008

Moderate Learning Difficulties

The majority of children with MLD are educated in mainstream schools, with provision made for additional help and support appropriate to their needs. 

However, often, by secondary school age, the gaps between children with MLD and other learners have widened to such an extent that the child may find the demands of secondary education too stressful.

Schools have the flexibility to decide how best to meet the pupils’ needs: in the classroom; in small group settings; in the learning support unit.

Difficulties faced by a child with Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD)

Children with MLD may appear immature and find it difficult to mix with their regular peer group, many are vulnerable and may experience bullying as a result. Often they are needy with an over-reliance on adult help and support.

Children described as having moderate learning difficulties, or global learning difficulties, experience great difficulty following the curriculum, despite receiving suitable help and intervention. They have general developmental delay resulting in attainments significantly below expected levels in most areas of the curriculum, ie below level 2 of the National Curriculum at the start of senior school. There may be other, associated special needs such as dyspraxia.

Generally children with MLD will have some or all of:

  •  Difficulty understanding basic concepts.
  • Problems acquiring basic skills in reading, writing and numeracy with a resultant lack of confidence to use and develop the skills they do have.
  • A lack of logic.
  • Poor problem solving skills.
  • An inability to generalise learning and apply it to new situations.
  • Limited communication skills coupled with immature social and emotional understanding.
  • Poor fine and gross motor skills.
  • Difficulty with personal organisation.
  • Poor auditory/visual memory.
  • Poor long and short term memory; difficulty remembering what has been taught.
  • Speech and language delay.
  • Emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • Sensory impairment.
  • A lack of social skills.


What helps children with MLD?

  • Routine and structure.
  • High expectations.
  • Giving the child responsibilities.
  • The potential for success. Encourage, praise, reward - not just for work and achievements but for positive behaviour too.
  • Building on the child’s knowledge and understanding.
  • Ensuring learning objectives are realistic for every lesson, and that success is achievable.
  • Giving clear instructions. Careful questioning to ensure a child knows what is expected of them and of the task.
  • Checking understanding at every stage.
  • Carefully planned and differentiated work, broken down into small manageable tasks.
  • Regular reinforcement of tasks to be mastered and the opportunity to practise and apply skills in everyday situations.
  • Showing how things are done rather than just explaining. Providing plenty of opportunities for multi-sensory, practical learning.
  • Visiting tasks, such as handling money and telling the time in short, frequent bursts.
  • Writing frames to help structure work.
  • Use of ICT, including where applicable, modified hardware.
  • Monitoring, recording and reporting of progress and the strategies that are successful.
  • Ensuring support is a tool, not a crutch.
  • Facilitating friendship groups.
  • Having positive role models.
  • Opportunities to participate and be fully included.

Children with MLD may be assisted not just by trained teachers, but also by learning support assistants (LSAs), who work under the direction of the classroom teacher and special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) or equivalent. Many schools issue individual education plans (IEPs) detailing a child’s needs and targets. Targets set should be closely monitored and regularly reviewed, with work for some or all of the time specifically designed to address the needs of the individual.

Pupils with MLD do not find learning easy and may display challenging behaviours if their needs are not fully recognised and understood.

Choosing a school for a child with Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD)

Rewarding children with moderate learning difficulties (MLD)

Schools should work to reward success and build self-esteem.

Many children with MLD cope in mainstream nursery and primary schools, but often, by secondary school age, the gaps between children with MLD and other learners have widened to such an extent that the child may find the demands of secondary education too stressful: different teachers; a wide range of subjects; the need to move around the school; to be organised; to change for PE. At this stage intellectual gaps tend to widen too.

Choice of school for a child with MLD depends on individual needs and demands, any additional needs, your wishes and those of your child, and the LEA policy.

Although the vast majority remain in mainstream education, this doesn’t mean those who attend special schools are ‘excluded’.

The Good Schools Guide has visited several schools for children with MLD. One such school, The Park School in Woking, is highly praised by parents. It operates along mainstream lines with children following the National Curriculum and working in smaller groups, not dissimilar in size from the lower sets often found in mainstream education. They mix with their peers and with children from other years, have specialist teachers and move around the school independently. They feel included because they can participate in all elements of school life – not just the academic, artistic and sporting aspects, but socially and emotionally too. Many spend part of their time working in mainstream schools, while some of the least able attend other special schools for some of the time if it’s felt beneficial.

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