Needs-Led Curriculum

What changes should I know about?

  • In 2014, the Department of Education introduced a New National Curriculum and at the same time removed National Curriculum levels.
  • Across the country all schools have been developing their own assessment systems to record pupils’ attainment using the new National Curriculum programmes.
  • At St. Dominic’s we made the conscious choice to keep using National Curriculum levels in 2014-2015 academic year to allow time to develop a system that worked for pupils, students, parents and staff
  • This led to the development of our Needs Led Curriculum and an assessment system of ‘Learning and Thinking Skills’ to track progress in all areas of provision: education, therapies and care which was implemented from 2015-16

What is the Needs Led Curriculum?             

At St. Dominic’s, we follow the National Curriculum which, as we are an SEN school, we can deliver ‘in a modified format’; this has not and will not change.

The curriculum at St. Dominic’s also encompasses the delivery of blended therapies by the trans-disciplinary team at wave 1, 2 and 3 through the wave model. This model shows what level of provision a child or young person receives. They may move up or down the waves of provision depending on progress, changing needs or within an agreed timescale. Additionally, they may require some wave 2 or 3 provision, even if the majority of their needs can be met at wave 1 (for example, a child may be at wave 1 but accessing a literacy intervention at wave 3). With regard to the needs led curriculum, at wave 1, this is integrated into classes. At wave 2, this takes place in small group interventions (these are additional to timetabled lessons and personalised based on need) and at wave 3 this is delivered in a 1-1 setting. 

Waves triangle

The model of provision is also utilised for residential pupils and students as part of the waking day curriculum and those pupils and students who stay to access the extended day curriculum.

The ‘Needs Led’ approach has been designed specifically to unify all aspects of curriculum delivery at St. Dominic’s, putting the needs of pupils and students firmly at the forefront of everything we do. The revisions to the curriculum at key stages 2, 3 and 4 have increased the range of interventions on offer, particularly at waves 1 and 2.


Why does St. Dominic’s need a ‘Needs Led’ Curriculum?

Why NLC?

Pupils and students who attend St. Dominic’s present a range of challenging and complex needs. Whilst all are able to access the National Curriculum ‘in a modified format’, their learning and needs profiles may be different from other children and young people of their age who don’t have a diagnosed condition. Our job at St. Dominic’s is to focus on improving the areas of deficit and capitalise on the areas of strength for every pupil and student. The Needs Led Curriculum allows us to examine all areas of pupil and student development across different disciplines so that we are able to provide truly bespoke programmes of study that maximises the potential of each individual.

How is the Needs Led Curriculum being delivered?


The Needs Led Curriculum is built on the ethos that teaching does not just take place in the classroom at St. Dominic’s and is not just delivered by the teacher. Pupils and students learn from staff appointed in all positions, from etiquette in the dining room to work experience with the maintenance team; and that’s without counting the hundreds of small daily interactions that take place in the school day!





provision triangle

At wave 1, the Needs Led Curriculum underpins every other aspect of provision starting with therapies, education and care interventions and feeding into all National Curriculum requirements and accredited courses at Key Stage 4. This then informs the process for preparing pupils and students for life after St. Dominic’s, whether their destination is work, further education or independence.

In addition to this at wave 2, pupils at Key Stage 2 receive interventions for at least one lesson every day, whether they are funded at wave 2 or not. At Key Stage 3 this is one lesson per week as a minimum and at Key Stages 4 and 5, this is assessed on individual requirements. Interventions include:



Interventions are delivered by a range of trained professionals including teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, literacy and numeracy leads and behaviour and inclusion leads.

What is being assessed as part of the Needs Led Curriculum?

There are 7 strands of the Needs Led Curriculum:

7 strands wheel

Learning to Learn assesses the skills pupils and students require to be independent learners, work as part of a team, reflect on their learning, manage themselves in a learning environment, participate effectively and think creatively. It is delivered by education staff and therapy staff as part of blended provision.

Functional Independence assesses the skills pupils and students require for self-care, personal safety and welfare, independent living skills, organisation and preparation for work, and functional motor and sensory skills. It is delivered by occupational therapists, care staff and a careers guidance practitioner primarily throughout the waking day curriculum, and through the delivery of PSHE by the trans-disciplinary team.

Language and Communication assesses attention, listening and understanding, narrative, vocabulary and social interaction. It is delivered by speech and language therapists.

Myself and Others assesses spiritual, moral, social and cultural development along with citizenship and emotional resilience. It is delivered by behaviour and inclusion leads and therapy staff and through the delivery of PSHE by the trans-disciplinary team.

Maths assesses the core components of the National Curriculum: number; algebra; ratio, proportion and rates of change; geometry and measure; probability and statistics. It is delivered by specialist mathematics teachers and qualified numeracy support staff through ‘Catch Up Maths.’ At St. Dominic’s mathematics is also cross-curricular.

Writing assesses transcription, handwriting, comprehension and vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. It is delivered by specialist English teachers and qualified literacy support staff. At St. Dominic’s, writing is also cross- curricular.

Reading assesses word reading and comprehension. It is delivered by specialist English teachers and qualified literacy support staff. At St. Dominic’s, reading is also cross-curricular.


Further reading

There is lots of literature on national changes. Should you like to find out more, some links are listed below.

DfE guidance on assessment without levels:

DfE 2014 National Curriculum:

Guidance for families on the primary curriculum: