Profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD)

Supporting learners with complex health conditions along with learning difficulties

Over the last ten years, education providers have experienced an increase in numbers of young people who have a range of complex medical and health conditions along with severe and profound learning difficulties. This change reflects the small but growing number of young people with PMLD who are completing their school education and, like their peers, making a transition into further education. Much of the increased demand for PMLD provision has been focused on general Further Education Colleges while numbers of PMLD students at specialist college, both day and residential have remained steady.

Children and adults with PMLD have more than one disability the most significant of which is a profound intellectual disability. These individuals all have great difficulty communicating, often requiring those who know them well to interpret their responses and intent. They frequently have other , additional , disabling conditions.

Core and Essential Service Standards

Developing PMLD provision

Developing Profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD) provision in the FE and Skills sector has been developed for the Education and Training Foundation by Natspec to support providers who are currently – or who plan to be – working with learners with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).

With a carefully planned and well-resourced approach, providers can make a huge impact on the outcomes and quality of life of PMLD learners, both while they are on-course and for many years afterwards.

The resource is aimed at all providers who are striving to develop provision where young people with PMLD can make progress towards good life outcomes, achieve their potential and be prepared for adult life.

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Supporting people with PMLD

Supporting people with profound and multiple learning difficulties is a set of core and essential service standards which are designed to improve the lives and life experiences of people with PMLD.

The aim of the service standards is to help service providers, including those delivering education to people with PMLD, to provide access to consistent, high-quality support.

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The engagement model

The  Standards and Testing Agency’s engagement model published March 2020, is an assessment tool to help schools to support pupils who are working below the level of the national curriculum and who are not engaged in subject-specific study. The model has five areas:

  • exploration 
  • realisation
  • anticipation
  • persistence
  • initiation

Although the engagement model was designed for use with children, the mdeol is a useful tool for assessing the level of engagement in post-16 education with learners with PMLD.

Recognising and recording progress and achievement (RARPA)

Learners with PMLD often require different ways to measure progress and achievement. RARPA is the process by which progress can be made on non-accredited learning programmes. To find out more about RARPA and to see how it can be implemented with learners with PMLD, visit our dedicated RARPA page.

Quick links

Mencap – provide guides, factsheets, information and resources to support those working and caring for people with PMLD.

Natspec – membership association for organisations offering specialist provision for students with learning difficulties and disabilities. This includes their TechAbility assistive technology service.

PMLD Link – a charity aiming to make a difference to the lives of children and adults with PMLD. In addition to developing the core and essential service standards they also produce a journal which shares ideas, information, activities and resources.

Preparing for Adulthood (PfA) – funded by the Department for Education,PfA is a partnership bringing together a wide range of expertise and experience of working with young people with SEND and families, at a local and national level and across government. Their aim to support young people into adulthood with paid employment, good health, independent living options and friends, relationships and community inclusion.