The computational efficiency of CAE tools for analysing failure progression in large layered composites is key. In particular, efficient approximation and solution methods for delamination modelling are crucial to meet today’s requirements on virtual development lead times. For that purpose, we present here an adaptive continuum shell element based on the isogeometric analysis framework, suitable for the modelling of arbitrary delamination growth. To achieve an efficient procedure, we utilise that, in isogeometric analysis, the continuity of the approximation field easily can be adapted via so-called knot insertion. As a result, the current continuum shell provides a basis for an accurate but also computationally efficient prediction of delamination growth in laminated composites. Results show that the adaptive modelling framework works well and that, in comparison to a fully resolved model, the adaptive approach gives significant time savings even for simple analyses where major parts of the domain exhibit delamination growth.