The virtual IEP


An innovative approach to individualised education planning: virtual IEPs 

New Bridge School in Oldham is a secondary special school that supports 300 eleven to nineteen year old pupils and students across all ability ranges. The school has 180 staff and is a designated Performance Arts College. As it supports a diverse group of learners, the school constantly has to evaluate the impact of its teaching and develop systems that assess the academic, emotional and pastoral progress of its young people.

One areas we identified as being of paramount importance was the need to effectively communicate targets, learning styles, and key pastoral information to the whole team. The school has used Filemaker Pro as its preferred platform for a management information system (MIS) for a number of years and it is with the support of our in-house programmers that we developed our Virtual Individualised Planning System.

Individual Education Plans (IEPs) at our school do not follow a traditional pattern, in that there is no one document that exists called an IEP. However, the process of the individualisation of the full curriculum offer creates what may be seen as a virtual IEP.

The MIS system works using a single point of entry which allows any stakeholder, with various password privileges, to upload relevant information. This leads to a reduced workload for staff as information is automatically diverted into the correct area within the system. It also allows for transparency and encourages joint working practices. This is vital as colleagues, for example from the health authority, are able to input essential medical updates and share academic and personal targets.

The process begins at the annual review or person centred plan (PCP) where “smart targets” are discussed and set for the year, in agreement with parents/carers, the young person and key stakeholders. These are based on objectives in each student’s statement.

Once agreed, these are entered onto the system and are communicated electronically to staff via pop-ups, which automatically appear when teachers or higher level teaching assistants log on to the young person’s profile. From this, pastoral termly targets are set by class tutors and, in addition to being discussed and displayed for students, they are then transferred electronically to staff in the lesson plan format. This format has been carefully designed with individual needs and differentiation in mind. Curriculum targets are individualised in a similar way for each subject and specific targets are also set on a termly basis.

The young people are reminded of their curriculum targets through Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP) systems and on assessment for learning (AFL) displays. Their termly (pastoral) targets are reinforced through their home pages on their computers, electronic home/school books, and a school report card, which we are presently piloting. All of these facilities reduce the paper workload and are more user friendly and transparent. Early indications suggest that our families value this personalised communication approach as it encourages and enhances their participation .

If some young people require specific interventions, for example larger print, alternative and augmentative communication aids or sloping boards, these are inputted and communicated in exactly the same way. As a single point of entry system, all staff should always be apprised of any alternative means of access a student may have. Each young person’s own access to the full curriculum offer is monitored and evaluated by various teams within the school, such as the Learning Support Team, Hearing Impaired Team, Visual Impaired Service and the Personal Care and Therapy Team (working with P1-4 learners).

This form of virtual IEP necessitates clear monitoring and evaluation and there are a number of processes in place to assess both the academic and pastoral target setting systems for individual learners. An “assessment week” has been piloted when, within lessons, staff evaluate targets with the students. Those working at earlier levels of the National Curriculum are supported by a buddy and, where necessary, new targets are set for the subsequent term.

This has been met with mixed responses from staff, with some finding it a valuable process which focuses both summative and formative assessment, while others communicated the risk of this style of assessment being tokenistic. As a result of the school prioritising this area of work, it was felt that we needed to re-visit our moderation systems. This is a challenging task and the school has the support of other Greater Manchester Schools who are presently developing standardised moderation packs for young people working between P1 and P8.

Our Pastoral and Academic Boards are part of the accountability framework within the 11-19 organisation. These are multidisciplinary staff panels, led by members of the senior management team and governors, which meet twice a term with curriculum leaders (for academic boards) and year heads (for pastoral boards).

The boards, which link directly to the full governing body, ensure direct accountability and that all young people all regularly monitored. Both boards use a RAG (red, amber, green) system to highlight the progress and achievements of the young people. Academic progress is monitored through a numerical system related to the levels in the Progression Guidance, recently published by the National Strategies and the DCSF, and the school’s own set targets.

All curriculum and pastoral progress is reported to parents on a termly basis in a prose format through a hard copy report which is taken from the Filemaker system.

A sophisticated level of technological expertise is needed to facilitate the writing of programmes for the use of the Management Information System. However, once programmes are written, the interface is very straightforward and user friendly. There are potential training implications in order to facilitate involvement from all staff and thereby ensure maximum impact for students.  Having in-house programmers means that the school is able to respond to the changing nature of the school population. The financial investment needs careful strategic development planning and a commitment is needed by all staff to maximise the potential of the system.

This form of IEP aims to develop a more holistic and meaningful approach to individualised planning.  As our young people’s needs constantly change, the system allows the school to respond almost immediately. It is a system which relies on clear processes but provides streamlined communication and has proved to be an extremely effective tool. There has been a significant move towards a genuine individualisation of pathways for all learners within the organisation.

Given the changing nature of special education, enhanced communication between all staff is an essential component in the planning of IEPs which will complement the delivery of a well differentiated and innovative curriculum.

Further information
Graham Quinn is Headteacher of New Bridge School, Greater Manchester, and a member of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust SEN and special schools steering group:

Clare John is Assistant Headteacher at New Bridge School:

Graham Quinn
Author: Graham Quinn

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