Children with moderate learning difficulties (MLD), or global learning difficulties, experience great difficulty following the curriculum, despite receiving additional 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.
Children with moderate learning difficulties 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.
Pupils with MLD do not find learning and communicating easy and may display challenging behaviour if their needs are not fully recognised and understood.
Signs of MLD
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.
• Working on 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.
Support in school for MLD
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 should be specifically designed to address the needs of the individual.
Choosing a school for a child with moderate learning difficulties
Many children with MLD cope in those mainstream nursery and primary schools which offer good levels of support. Look for one with a well-qualified and vigorous SENCo – she should fill you with confidence about her understanding of your child’s needs, and her ability to fight for extra support for him/her.
By secondary school age, children with MLD are likely to find the intellectual challenge and the other demands of secondary education - different teachers; a wide range of subjects; the need to move around the school; to be organised – too great.
It can be quite a challenge then to find an appropriate school, as with the move to inclusion many schools for moderate learning difficulties have closed down, so these pupils fall in the gap between mainstream and the provision for more severe learning difficulties in special schools.
You will need to research special school options thoroughly, to find one which offers an appropriate peer group for your child, who can communicate and learn at similar levels. However there are benefits in special schools, with all teachers trained to support children with additional needs, and usually much better provision of therapies such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy.
If you are struggling to find a school for moderate learning difficulties, The Good Schools Guide’s SEN consultants can help.