The Holbrook Curriculum

The Holbrook curriculum fulfils every individual’s potential.

Holbrook School for Autism seeks to provide a broad, balanced, relevant, meaningful and motivating curriculum to develop the specific strengths, needs, interests and aspirations of our students. We have designed and implemented our whole school curriculum offer to meet the wide range of learners we have in our school. The curriculum is used to develop student confidence, interest in and understanding of the world. Differentiated, personalised provision enables students to become increasingly independent as they transfer learning between school, home, residential and the wider community.

Holbrook School for Autism aims to ‘make learning come to life’. We provide specialist education and care for children and young people with autism and learning disabilities aged 4-19. We teach a broad curriculum, intended to meet the needs of individuals with autism as successfully as possible. Our school curriculum is designed to ensure we provide a bespoke autism-specific curriculum tailored to the needs of all our students. We aim to provide a curriculum that prepares students as effectively as possible for life after school. Our autism-specific curriculum is primarily focused around the four areas of the SEND code of practice. The curriculum structure is devised around four pathways. It is important to remember that a student may require elements of two pathways or flow between pathways during their journey at Holbrook School for Autism.

Our linear curriculum is based on the content of EYFS, the National Curriculum and the Preparation for Adulthood Framework. We recognise that some of our students, due to their complex needs, may never gain certain skills. Our lateral curriculum is focused on progress made against each student’s EHCP. Each student has a personalised provision evident within their ‘my plan’. With these we work together with students, parents and professionals to decide individual outcomes. The provision determined in the ‘my plan’ then informs the student’s pathway. Each class has its own base and access to a range of specialist teaching areas including food technology, computing, sports hall, library, horticulture area, forest school and sensory rooms.

Our Pathways

Students are not placed in cohorts based on their chronological age; they are placed in class groups dependent on their cognitive, sensory, social, emotional and communication needs. Classes are organised into our four curriculum pathways: Stream‘, ‘River‘ ‘Ocean‘ and ‘Hub

Curriculum Intent

Teachers plan topics and themes that provide a context for learning at our four different curriculum levels:

Stream Pathway:
Stream students engage with a holistic and sensory approach to learning.  In this pathway the curriculum has a clear developmental perspective focused on the four areas of the EHCP. In a stream classroom you will see consistent routines which allow learners to develop responses and express themselves in a stimulating and nurturing environment. The stream curriculum allows learners to:

  • Anticipate and learn through familiar routines
  • Explore the world around them using their senses to enable exploration
  • Develop positive relationships with familiar people
  • Develop the physical skills to control and manipulate their environment
  • Express choices and feelings through preferred method of communication

River Pathway:

River students engage with exploratory-based learning that encompasses real life experiences. The curriculum offer is underpinned by the four areas of the students EHCP and discrete learning opportunities to promote engagement. In a river classroom you will see students learning through adult-led practical tasks alongside child-led learning opportunities. The river curriculum allows learners to:

  • Develop a range of functional skills across the curriculum
  • Learn about the world around them and their place in the wider community
  • Learn and practice life skills to enable them to be as independent as possible
  • Express choices and feelings through preferred method of communication

Ocean Pathway:
Ocean students engage in semi-formal learning. In this pathway the curriculum is focused on the development and application of fundamental skills and knowledge. In an ocean class you will see students learning through subject and topic based learning tasks with opportunities to further develop skills through practical and sensory activities. The ocean curriculum allows learners to:

  • Study a wide range of subjects, as appropriate
  • Learn through concrete tasks and then through generalising and applying knowledge and skills
  • Development of employability and functional skills to support independence in the wider world.
  • Engage and express preferences to develop and build upon their interests.

The Hub Pathway:
Hub students engage with a full national curriculum. Teaching and learning is delivered through a primary based model, which caters for the social and emotional learning needs of the individual. We aspire to equip students with the skills to successfully transition back in to mainstream or identified education settings. Hub students have the potential to be working at age-appropriate levels and therefore require subject based learning supported further by student ‘My Plans’. The students we support have usually attended mainstream settings but due to behavioural, self-regulation difficulties and SEMH challenges they have not been able to thrive. In the Hub provision you will mainly see students learning through subject specific learning tasks with opportunities to develop skills through practical and enrichment activities. The Hub learning environment provides opportunities to:

  • Re-engage with learning
  • Make accelerated progress across the curriculum
  • Successfully transition to mainstream settings
  • Develop social and emotional skills to support relationships, transitions and independence skills
  • Establish positive peer group relationships in and out of school
  • Work within set boundaries and understand the impact of their actions
  • Develop improved self-esteem and long term aspirations
  • Develop communication and interaction skills to a level where students can express their needs, opinions and knowledge in an appropriate manner understood by adults and peers

Recovery Curriculum

Please find attached our recovery curriculum and our remote learning policy.

Curriculum Implementation

All students at Holbrook School for Autism have a ‘my plan’ document, which highlights the context for their educational provision. These are specifically tailored around the student’s EHCP. The four areas are taken from the four key areas of the SEND code of practice for teaching pupils with autism. This identifies the needs of each individual pupil. ‘My Plans’ identify the needs of each individual student primarily based on EHCP provision and outcomes. These plans support teachers to create appropriate learning environments, identify specific areas of need and design informed class timetables. Provision maps for our four pathways have been devised to inform ‘My Plans’.

A student may require elements of two pathways or flow between pathways during their journey at Holbrook School for Autism. Student EHCP’s inform a student’s ‘my plan’. The provision determined in the ‘my plan’ then informs the student’s pathway.

Stream Pathway:

A student’s individual EHCP and subsequent ‘My Plan’ will be central to the planning of lessons and activities for students working within the holistic strand of the curriculum. The stream pathway follows a set of long term goals that are broken down into progression of skills linked to each of the four areas of the EHCP.

Students learn through a consistent structure and routine. Sessions are planned to implement each of the four areas of the ‘My Plan’. Students learn through guided learning and staff modelling with an emphasis on repetition and opportunities for generalisation. Students access a minimalist environment to support engagement.


River Pathway:

A student’s individual EHCP and subsequent ‘My Plan’ supplements planning of lessons and activities for students working within this exploratory strand of the curriculum. The river pathway follows a set of long term goals that are broken down into progression of skills linked to each of the four areas of the EHCP. Both Maths and English are taught through subject specific sessions that often include interactive starters, sensory exploration tasks and direct teaching opportunities where appropriate. Topic based sessions are informed by EQUALS schemes of work, Our World and Our Creativity progression of skills documents.


Ocean Pathway:

A student’s individual EHCP and subsequent ‘My Plan’ supplements planning for this more semi-formal strand of the curriculum. Foundation subjects act as a vehicle to support functional application of Maths and English.

Students learn through Maths and English sessions, topic based progression of skills, White Rose Maths and a wide range of accreditation.

Our Creativity and Our World schemes of work support focused teaching opportunities. Within the Ocean pathway there is the opportunity to work towards more formal subject specific lessons to develop learning, understanding and application in relation to student’s ability and interest.


The Hub Pathway:

A student’s individual EHCP and subsequent ‘My Plan’ support re-engagement in learning and transition to the Hub setting. Students within the Hub have ownership of their ‘My Plans’ and reflect on progress towards their outcomes.

Teaching staff use the Cornerstones curriculum to structure teaching and learning and to reduce the attainment gap between the student and their age related learning goals. Subjects are taught as stand-alone lessons. Assessment for learning will be based on the principle of end of year and key stage expectations. Academic provision is differentiated effectively to develop self-esteem and ensure all students become motivated to achieve and succeed.

Throughout the Hub curriculum we recognise the need for personalised outcomes for all students. Students in our setting have the potential to access age appropriate learning standards from the national curriculum and are supported to develop the tools to be able to deal with other social and emotional issues that act as a barrier to learning.


Case Study – Bringing the Learning to Life – ‘Going to the Hairdressers


2023-2023 Assessment and Progress


Curriculum Areas

The curriculum is delivered through key themes identified in a four-year curriculum map to ensure the full breadth of study through a thematic approach linked to the needs and targets of the pupils. Curriculum leaders are established and lead the curriculum through the school and support teaching staff appropriately. The curriculum has a developmental focus allowing students to engage in meaningful activities which are both challenging and relevant to the students’ identified needs. Programmes to meet physical, personal and other therapy needs are an integral part of our planning. Our curriculum is designed to fulfil our school purpose: ‘To educate and empower our young people to develop the attitudes, skills and courage to succeed’. Curriculum planning is based on the National Curriculum to ensure it is broad and balanced.

Reading at Holbrook:

At Holbrook School for Autism we aim to foster a love and enjoyment of reading which encourages all children to read regularly, experiencing a selection of books from a wide range of genres and authors. We value reading as a life skill and we are committed to our pupils becoming lifelong readers who are able to read for pleasure and apply their skills functionally. We want pupils to develop a love of reading and be able to understand more about the world in which they live, through the knowledge they gain from texts. Reading will also allow them to access the world they live in meaningfully.

Our reading curriculum is designed with the understanding that each pupil will have unique starting and destination points. It is split into four separate curriculums areas, those being the Stream, River, Ocean and Hub pathways. Reading will look varied across the pathways and have different intentions based on student’s reading stages of development. For some students, they will access learning through immersive interaction with texts through sensory stories and interactive technology which makes reading more accessible for high quality learning. For some of our students, reading is an emergent skill and includes tracking, interaction with objects, and recognition of shapes, contrasts, people and faces amongst many other things. As students develop their reading skills further it incorporates recognising Makaton signs, recognising Communication InPrint symbols and common environmental print such as warning signs, information texts and timetables.

Many of Holbrook’s students also read in the more traditional sense of the word and are able to decode text using picture books and indeed many students are able to read and comprehend books independently. Students at Holbrook read to recognise words but also comprehend texts to explore and understand their surroundings especially through social sight vocabulary.

Phonics is one of the core strategies used across school to support the student’s reading development. All staff understand and strongly promote the learning of phonics throughout school and is delivered daily across school. Phonics is taught using a systematic and synthetic programme called ‘Essential Letters and Sounds’. Teachers may need to differentiate the pace, learning techniques and supporting resources, such as symbols (Widgit), based on the needs of their pupils. A lot of revision and repetition is built-in, as well as the application of phonic skills in all reading and writing. Students at the very early stages of their phonics development will engage with phase one phonics alongside communication development and will heavily rely on AAC strategies such as objects of reference, photos and symbols and sensory exploration rather than the traditional learning programme. As students develop their phonic awareness, they will access the scheme in line with their abilities and development needs. The programme will have a core focus and staff will follow the teaching and learning requirements within this but an appreciation of our student’s needs may need the scheme to be highly adaptable while keeping the main aspects at the core. Please take a look at our phonics development poster which showcases the journey we have made to date

Students also apply and practise their reading in the community and in all areas of the curriculum. Our students gain skills that enable them to access our local communities functionally. Our approach to teaching and learning in our school community enables all students to have the best possible skills set they can achieve to be ready for their next steps in life.

Regular and ongoing assessment takes place throughout the year and this information is used to plan for future lessons, ensuring students are challenged and supported appropriately. Students develop skills for life through reading, completing pre entry, entry level qualifications in KS4  and KS5 demonstrating their ability to read.


Maths at Holbrook:

Mathematics is essential to everyday life. The quality of the lives of all of our Holbrook learners can be greatly enriched if our students reach their mathematical potential, whether that be counting out two slices of bread to make their own sandwich, or using their financial literacy skills within a place of employment. In our specific context as an autism specialist SEN school, the vision for our maths curriculum is for it to be personalised, meaningful, autism specific and tailored to our pathways.






We set out to challenge each student to reach their mathematical potential.

We will achieve this through setting high expectations for every student and personalising the curriculum to each individual’s needs.

This will ensure that students make progress in mathematics in line with their ability to do so.


We set out to ensure that maths learning is relevant and meaningful to our students.

We will achieve this through centring the curriculum around functional real-world activities.

This will ensure students are prepared to manage the problem-solving challenges that they will encounter in life beyond school.

Autism Specific

We set out to support our students specific autism needs.

We will achieve this through delivery that suits our students’ preference towards visual, practical and sensory learning in a structured setting.

This will ensure that our students are curious, engaged and more independent in their learning.

Tailored to Pathways

We set out to deliver maths learning opportunities for our students that are tailored across our different pathways.

We will achieve this through delivering a curriculum for each pathway that ensures that concepts are encountered at a pace appropriate to their ability.

This will ensure that our students are given multiple opportunities to revisit key concepts over time in order to strengthen their long-term memory


Science at Holbrook:

In an increasingly technological age, we believe that it is essential that students acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they will need to prepare them for life in the 21st century. The main aspects of science studied across our Hub and Ocean classes are determined by the National Curriculum.  A more discreet method of teaching science through topic based sessions and exploration activities will be seen throughout River and Stream classes. Objectives for these sessions are planned for through “Our World” Progression of skills and/or “My Thinking” progression of skills.. Through Science, our students will foster a respect for the natural world and all its phenomena.

Each half term we run a science based theme day for the whole school which links to our 4-year curriculum cycle theme. Teachers meet in pathway teams and with the science subject lead in advance to discuss, present and share activities.

Relationships & Sex Education (RSE) at Holbrook:

At Holbrook School for Autism, RSE is about the emotional, social and cultural development of pupils, and involves learning about relationships, sexual health, sexuality, healthy lifestyles, diversity and personal identity. RSE involves a combination of sharing information, and exploring issues and values. At Holbrook School for Autism, RSE is taught within the personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education curriculum. Biological aspects of RSE are taught within the ‘my body’ and ‘my feelings’ curriculum. We will provide a broad and balanced curriculum within which we aim to support pupils, Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC). In July 2022, we achieved the Silver level of the SMSC National Quality Mark award.

Relationship education is split into the five main areas (families and the people who care for me, caring friendships, respectful relationships, online relationships, being safe), with eight sections of Physical and Mental Health (mental wellbeing, internet safety and harms,  physical health and fitness,  healthy eating,  drugs, alcohol and tobacco,  health and prevention,  basic first aid and the changing adolescent body.)

Our students are inundated with mature content via TV and social media sites and as a result, safety is becoming an increasing concern for parents, making it necessary for students to learn about sexuality and intimate relationships. The Holbrook curriculum teaches all pathways to include lessons about pubertal changes, relationships, and sex education. This provides a safe and secure environment for our students to learn about their bodies, needs, and sexuality. We have tailored learning to match the age and needs of each student.


Personal Development at Holbrook

Please click here to access our personal development overview












The lateral curriculum: 'My Plans'

Every student has a ‘My Plan’, which is a provision map stating how their outcomes from their EHCP will be met through the school curriculum. The four areas which encompass the learning opportunities are grouped into four areas linking to the SEND code of practice. These are; My Thinking, My Body, My Communication, and My Feelings. The ‘My Plans’ allow all students to be given personalised and relevant learning opportunities and provision.

Students all have a personalised “my plan” which determines a bespoke curriculum offer required to support student EHCP objectives. The My Plan’ should be a standalone piece of information that gives a quick over view to strategies used to help work towards completing EHCPs; to be updated along with Annual reviews. The amount of strategies per area does not have any representation on how much evidence each area should have. It might over time show that some teachers teach more to one area across the whole class and may need to look at timetables and re-adjust their planning.

EHCP folders of evidence are collected on our Seesaw app. To ensure we are referring to high quality pieces of focused evidence per student teachers create folders for individual pupils based on their long term EHCP goals. Evidence now collected is evidence towards that goal and can be monitored as thorough evidence at the annual review when reviewing targets. The ‘my plan’ is then fit for purpose as provision towards achieving these.


The core curriculum team are made up of Lucy Hunt and the pathway leads, Lea, Lauren, Louise and Sally who are happy to discuss the curriculum with your further. Please email info@holbrookautism.derbyshire.sch to get in touch.

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