Empowering People, Launching lives

What is an adaptive curriculum?

Author: Sarah Dominic, Assistant Head of Park House School, and Catrin Bail, Head of Pastoral


15th December 2022 | 3 mins read

There are just under 1.5 million pupils in England with Special Educational Needs (SEN), roughly 16% of the school population. The suspension rate of these pupils is almost 4.5 times higher than those without SEN.[1] A different approach is needed to empower pupils with SEN to create inclusive learning environments for all children. You can achieve this using adaptive teaching strategies and getting creative in the classroom.


Adaptive Curriculums – how they support

Adaptive teaching is a way to include all pupils regardless of their needs or barriers to learning. Before implementing an effective adaptive curriculum, it is important to gather a comprehensive pupil profile. This should include the following:

  • A pupils’ barriers to learning – e.g. fine motor skills, behaviours that challenge learning
  • Their group skills
  • Focus and attention span
  • Contributing environmental factors to their learning
  • Previous learning history

This information should all be gathered before any adaptive teaching can be implemented.


Implementing adaptive learning

It is very important to establish ground rules and expectations for pupils. Visuals can help explain for learners who need more support.

At the heart of adaptive teaching is creating multi-step success criteria. This ensures learners with SEN are able to access the curriculum without feeling excluded from the work their peers are doing. Using similar learning objectives but teaching to different skill levels will help create an inclusive classroom environment. Adaptation of teaching and curriculum can be found through alternate questioning.

Designed well, adaptive curriculums will support teachers to deliver tailored learning objectives to pupils using the same resources. Learning can be personalised to the pupil and also save the teacher time. If done successfully the adaptive learning will ensure all pupils are fully confident before moving on to new concepts.


Allocation of resources

Successfully allocating resources can go a long way towards a positive adapted learning experience.

  • Human resources: the role a teacher and teaching assistant (TA) can play. The TA might have more capacity to support pupils with SEN; however, these learners might need more specialist support and attention from a qualified teacher. Finding this balance will ensure that all pupils in the class feel supported and are being given the same opportunity.
  • Physical resources: make your teaching more interactive. 3D objects can support learning and help pupils demonstrate their understanding where expressive communication is limited. Similarly, pupils may find writing difficult if they have fine motor issues. Typing, or vocalising answers could be a helpful assessment tool in this instance, or using pictures and symbols.


Building confidence in the classroom

Autistic learners may find it difficult to retain information if it is not consolidated and revisited. Previously taught skills can be used to build confidence in lessons and assess the maintenance of previously acquired skills.

Building mastered skills into lessons can be a useful tool to build confidence and break down anxieties around learning. This also ensures the learning is accessible and not “target heavy”.

Pupils with barriers to learning may also need assessments to be personalised. This could be providing choice boards with varying receptive questions to assess understanding e.g. “show me” or “find the”. You should also fade the amount of support you give over time to help the learner become more independent.


In short, adaptive teaching focuses on the whole class rather than the individual. Rather than teaching individual lessons for each pupil, creating different resources and tasks enables you to teach one lesson to the entire class. The adapted resources will help give learners with additional needs a helping hand meaning all pupils work towards the same curriculum. An adaptive curriculum means a more inclusive teaching environment.

To find out more about this topic, take a look at our recent Lunch and Learn below.



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