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LAST week the QCA distributed a set of guidelines called Planning, teaching and assessing the curriculum for pupils with learning difficulties. These guidelines were developed by a team from the universities of Birmingham, Cambridge and Cardiff, together with representatives from EQUALS, a group which brings together teachers who work with special needs pupils. The core development team worked with practitioners from a range of schools, special and mainstream, acknowledged experts, subject specialists from QCA, the Department for Education and Employment and the Office for Standards in Education to build on the innovative curriculum development and practice in schools throughout the country.

The non-statutory guidelines are for pupils aged five to 16 who are not expected to achieve beyond level 2 at key stage 4. These pupils are often described as having severe, profound and multiple or moderate learning difficulties. The guidelines are applicable to mainstream and special primary and secondary schools, special units and independent schools. They have been developed to support not only teachers and other staff but also the range of services that work with these pupils.

The guidelines contain:

* a booklet on planning, teaching and assessing the curriculum

* a booklet on developing skills across the curriculum

* booklets on planning, teaching and assessing each national curriculum subject, religious education, and personal, social and health education and citizenship.

Manyschools are already familiar with the P scales for English and mathematics. Differentiated performance criteria at levels P1-P8 for pupils achieving below level 1 of the national curriculum have now been developed for all the subjects and the QCA has reviewed P1-3 in order to break them down into smaller steps.

The performance descriptions will allow teachers to record progress more reliably and facilitate planning to meet the needs of each pupil.

The guidelines are not a separate curriculum but are intended to assist schools in developing an inclusive curriculum. As well as indicating how to meet the needs of pupils with learning difficulties by modifying or adapting the programmes of study for the national curriculum, the guidelines also give helpful advice on improving access. Additionally, they look at which parts of the programmes of study are least appropriate to such learners. The suggested activities can be used to develop ideas for relevant, accessible and challenging experiences in curriculum plans.

Two sets of these materials have been distributed to special schools, schools with special units and local educationunitary authorities. Other schools with pupils with learning difficulties will receive one set via their educational authorities. The materials soon be available on the national curriculum inclusion website at Ian Colwill is principal manager, curriculum, at the QCA, 83 Piccadilly, London W1J 8QA. Tel: 020 7509 5555. Web:

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