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Cognition and Learning - Graduated Approach

Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)
The SEND Code of Practice states:

6.30 - Support for learning difficulties may be required when children and young people learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation.

Learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), where children are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication, through to profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), where children are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment.

6.31 - Specific learning difficulties (SpLD), affect one or more specific aspects of learning. This encompasses a range of conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.


Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has SEN and should not automatically lead to a pupil being recorded as having SEN. However, they may be an indicator of a range of learning difficulties or disabilities.

Equally, it should not be assumed that attainment in line with chronological age means that there is no learning difficulty or disability. Some learning difficulties and disabilities occur across the range of cognitive ability and, left unaddressed may lead to frustration, which may manifest itself as disaffection, emotional or behavioural difficulties. (SEND Code of Practice 6:23) 

Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD)

The majority of students with moderate learning difficulties will be identified early in their school careers. 

In most cases, they will have difficulty acquiring basic numeracy and literacy skills and may have commensurate speech and language difficulties. 

They may find it hard to understand abstract ideas and to generalise from experience.  Some may also have poor social skills and may show signs of emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Indicators of moderate learning difficulties would be:

  • Resources needing to be deployed which are additional to or different from those normally available to the students in the school, through the differentiated curriculum (this would not include ‘catch-up’ interventions aimed at those who are able to catch up with their peers following targeted group intervention)
  • Consistently evident problems with regard to memory and reasoning skills
  • Consistently evident problems with processing, organising and co-ordinating spoken and written language to aid cognition
  • Consistently evident problems with sequencing and organising the steps needed to complete tasks
  • Consistently evident problems with problem solving and developing concepts
  • Consistently evident problems with understanding ideas, concepts and experiences which significantly impair access to the curriculum
  • Consistently evident problems with fine and gross motor competencies which significantly impair access to the curriculum
  • Consistently evident problems with understanding ideas, concepts and experiences when information cannot be gained through first-hand sensory or physical experiences


Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)

Specific Learning Difficulty is the overall term used to describe a developmental condition that causes problems when using words (dyslexia) and problems using symbols (dyscalculia) and some other developmental problems.

Dyslexia is the commonest type of specific learning difficulty that students are likely to experience with about 10% of the population having some form of dyslexia. 

‘Dyslexia is present when fluent and accurate word identification (reading) and/or spelling do not develop or do so very incompletely or with great difficulty.  This focuses on literacy learning at the ‘word level’ and implies that the problem is severe and persistent despite appropriate learning opportunities.  It provides the basis of a staged assessment through teaching.’ (British Psychological Society, 2000: Dyslexia, Literacy and Psychological Assessment.) 

Short-term memory, mathematics, concentration, personal organisation and speaking may be affected. 

Dyslexia is biological in origin and tends to run in families, but environmental factors may also contribute to it.  Its cause has not been fully confirmed but the effect is to create neurological anomalies in the brain.

The effects of dyslexia can largely be overcome by support and the use of compensatory strategies.

Students with dyslexia have to work hard to overcome their difficulties and consequently tire more quickly than other students.  This needs to be taken into account in the pace of lessons and differentiating tasks.

Students with specific learning difficulties fail to acquire levels of skills in some subjects commensurate with their performance in others, despite good attendance and health, satisfactory attitudes to learning and sound teaching.  They may find difficulties particularly frustrating if they become an obstacle to the development of learning in other areas.  Low self-esteem, poor concentration and behavioural difficulties can arise as a consequence.

Other aspects of the development of these students may be in line with the majority of students their age. It is, however, possible for dyslexia to be present alongside other learning disorders, thus creating different complexities of special need.


Find out more:

Trafford's Graduated Approach: Cognition and Learning

Cognition and Learning Resources

Trafford Graduated Approach Assistive Technology / SNICTA

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