An Individual Education Plan (IEP) – sometimes known as an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) - is a tool to help plan, teach, monitor and evaluate a particular student’s progress.
Who should have an IEP?
IEPs are used for pupils who are not fulfilling their potential, and who have a specific need, which might be addressed by a modified curriculum, extra resources, or a different learning environment to the rest of the class.
IEPs can be used for those pupils who are withdrawn from class for extra learning support lessons on a 1:1 basis, but they should also be in place for those who are having additional support within the classroom, as well as for those who are being set differentiated classwork or homework.
Getting a good IEP can be key to providing the best possible support for your child.
How is an IEP produced?
An IEP is written by teachers in collaboration with others. Both you and your child should be consulted, and in your contribution you should highlight the aspects of your child's learning which you feel should be prioritised.
Developing it involves a number of stages. Once a pupil’s particular needs have been identified, discussion should take place regarding what adjustments need to be made to the curriculum. Once implemented, the plan should be evaluated regularly, with new targets set, or existing targets modified, if necessary.
How are the IEP targets and strategies set?
Generally, targets are short and medium term, though longer term goals can also be included. Three or four key areas of focus are usually enough as too many targets tend to mean the support provided is not focused enough.
Targets might be purely academic but, equally, might focus on other areas such as a pupil’s engagement in class, their behaviour, or attendance. Targets should be appropriate to the age and level of development of the student, and their purpose should be clear; some schools will follow the SMART acronym when writing them, which means targets should be Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-related.
What should a good IEP look like?
All good IEPs take into account the individual’s strengths, their skills, preferred learning style and what motivates them, as well as their weaknesses. It should address, where possible, the time of day when the pupil learns best, the preferred type of learning environment, the type of teaching best suited to the activity and who is best able to implement different parts of the plan.
It should be a record of the pupil’s goals and should focus on the strategies to be adopted in order to help the pupil achieve their objectives.
For a pupil who finds it hard to co-operate in group activities, the target might be ‘to remain engaged when working both independently and collaboratively, using the correct body language to signal involvement’. The strategy might include ‘encourage the pupil to look at people when speaking to them’ and ‘emphasise good posture so people can hear what is being said’.
Or, for a child who finds it hard to make eye contact, the target might be ‘by half-term the pupil will make eye contact following a gestural cue on a daily basis’. The strategy might be ‘teacher to point to her eyes then the pupil’s eyes to signal that eye contact should be made’.
Ideally, the setting and reviewing of targets should be a collaborative effort and it is important that all parties agree upon the goals selected. As well as pupils and parents, teachers and special needs co-ordinators (SENCos) should consult pastoral staff, and external agencies where appropriate.
It is particularly important that pupils are aware of the contents of their IEP. It should help them to see how they are doing, what extra help is needed in order to progress further and how they will be supported in that process.
How should the IEP be reviewed?
Once the IEP is in place and targeted support has been given, a review needs to take place to see what improvement, if any, is being made. A range of data should be used to assess the pupil’s progress, including exam and test results and lesson observations, as well as more subjective feedback from the pupil and parents.
There should always be a section on the IEP which details whether the pupil has achieved, partly achieved, insufficiently achieved, or not achieved, a particular target. Where progress is not being made, goals might need to be adapted and teaching methods will possibly need modifying. This is why it is so crucial that it is a fluid document – it should be easy to revise and amend as soon as this becomes necessary.
It is important the plan is measured and monitored on a regular basis, ideally at least once a term and always at the end of an academic year.
In this way, it can provide an on-going record of the pupil’s progress from one academic year to the next, with all the changes of staffing and subjects that this inevitably entails. This sharing of information on a pupil over a period of time is one of the most important functions of an IEP.
We hear tales of IEPs which have been gathering dust since a child joined the school, and have not been reviewed after two or three years; you should always complain to the head if yours has not been revised in more than a year.
Parents should keep IEPs on file, because they will provide you with vital evidence should it become apparent that school is not providing promised resources; or should you need to make a case for additional support from the local authority; or should you need proof that your child is not managing in a mainstream environment and needs a specialist place.
But above all, good IEPs should keep the pupil fully engaged in their learning and help them to feel confident about their educational progress. It should ensure they know they are fully supported.