Individual learning plans form a 'route map' of how a learner will get from their starting point on a learning journey to the desired end point. They may be for one course and include the acquisition of qualifications and skills, or may link several courses that give progression to different levels (from level 1 to 3, or from level 2 to Higher Education). They should be individual for each learner to reflect aspirations, aptitude and needs.

Although there may be common learning goals and methods of delivery for all learners on a particular course, it is unlikely that all learners have exactly the same learning styles, abilities, support needs, access to assessment in the workplace (if applicable), previous qualifications or experience. Too many vocationally-based courses have identical individual learning plans where only the names of learners are different. Some will struggle to achieve them while others will find them too easy and lose interest by not being sufficiently challenged.

Individual learning plans should start from a common format, listing general outcomes, and then develop as initial assessment and circumstances impact. They should be live documents that are useful to the learner, delivery staff and possibly employers and parents/guardians.

How does the way you use individual learning plans to support your learners compare with that of the most effective provision seen on inspection?

The following strengths and areas for improvement have been taken from recent inspection reports across the Ofsted Learning and Skills remit.

Common inspection strengths

  • Effective use of individual learning plans
  • Good individual learning plans
  • Good development of individual learning plans

Common inspection areas for improvement

  • Poor development of individual learning plans
  • Inadequate use of individual learning plans
  • Poor planning of learning

If you were given a similar area for improvement bullet at the end of your last inspection, self assessed this area as an area for improvement, or want to work to avoid such areas for improvement, then consider what inspectors judge to be key.

Particularly effective practice identified in inspections includes:

  • Developing a proforma for an individual learning plan that does not just meet the needs of funding bodies but covers all the elements required for a programme of learning. The development of the best proformas has taken into account the need to provide sufficient space for updating them.
  • Not completing individual learning plans in a rush to meet funding body requirements (inspectors still see the individual learning plan being completed and signed off in induction before initial assessment is fully completed so that a copy can be sent to the funding body).
  • Examples of developing a second individual learning plan as a 'working document' used throughout the time a learner is with the provider, that is focused on delivery of learning, assessment, support and target setting.
  • Delivery staff receiving training in order to understand the results of initial assessment, such as literacy, numeracy or language requirements, and their impact on learning. This includes other learner support needs such as dyslexia, to ensure that the individual learning plan reflects support, assessment arrangements and possible need for extra time.
  • Taking account of previous experience and learning, so that targets and times to gain assessments in an area in which learners have previous experience are realistic and do not hold the progress of learners up. Plans are individual in developing targets that stretch learners and keep them focused on achieving realistic milestones.
  • Ensuring that each learner has an individual learning plan, based on their initial assessment and mapping the route from that starting point to the achievement of individual goals, for example completing the full framework, or gaining sustainable employment.
  • Involving the learner in creating the first draft of their learning plan, understanding the reason for its contents and updating the plan with the learner (and employer if applicable) as training progresses and circumstances change.
  • Using the learning plan as a working document by checking progress against it during reviews or tutorial activities, amending target dates for milestones such as achievement of units, key skills or other qualifications as necessary.
  • Planning in more detail for the short term targets and in outline for the longer term targets.
  • Using the individual learning plan to record how any additional support needs, identified by initial assessment, are to be provided for. This helps keep everyone involved in training in the 'loop' and helps eliminate support being given in isolation from the main training programme.
  • There are several examples of work-based providers having targets that reflect particular types of 'model learner', for example ones who have previous experience or qualifications, or those with additional support needs. These act as a preliminary guide in setting targets which can then be altered as the learner progresses.
  • Some providers have altered individual learning plans to facilitate 'fast tracking' of learners, for example where emigration or pregnancy might prevent completion.
  • Some providers with good information technology resources have made individual learning plans available online, which can be updated. Sections can be printed for reference where access to computers is limited.
  • Quality improvement systems such as internal audit and review focusing on how well plans are completed and how they may be improved in the future. Good practice is noted and shared across the provider.

Healthcheck questions

Health check

Does the proforma you use have sections that reflect the requirements of all those involved in the delivery of training (employers, funding bodies, awarding bodies, assessors, tutors, specialist support staff)? 

List any amendments that are necessary.

Take a sample of individual learning plans from across your provision. Is each plan individual to the learner, reflecting each learner’s initial assessment (including necessary support and taking account of previous experience and qualifications) and goals (with dates for achieving various milestones such as individual units, key skills, etc)?

How have learners been involved in writing their individual learning plans and in updating them as required?

How are targets broken down so that learners know the steps that they are expected to achieve and when they should do so (clear and measurable)?

Is there any good practice that could be shared between programmes (if ‘yes’ list it)?

How are individual learning plans used during review/tutorial activities?

Do all those who require it have access to the individual learning plans?

Are individual learning plans ‘live’ documents?

How do quality systems check how well individual learning plans are being used?

What could you do next to improve your provision?

  • Read inspection reports to identify what the best providers are doing in your particular type of provision or area of learning (also check other types of provision as good practice is usually transferable between inspection contexts - adult and community learning, college, DWP, work-based, etc). As well as looking at providers with ‘outstanding’ aspects or monitoring visit reports with judgements of ‘significant progress’, look at providers who are similar to yourself in terms of remit, size and what they offer – Ofsted inspection reports
  • Get a clearer and richer understanding of what you need to do to improve – Learner-centred self-assessment
  • Use downloadable quality-improvement resources to develop your staff team and to focus on actions that will help to improve your provision – Actions for quality improvement
  • Adopt or adapt the best bits of other providers’ work that inspection has identified as being particularly effective – Ofsted good practice database examples
  • Measure just how effective your initial-assessment system is and if your quality-improvement initiatives are working – Data projects
  • Develop a blueprint for initial assessment of your learners – Initial assessment and support
  • Check whether your self-assessment report is fit for purpose – Self-assessment surgery projects
  • Use the guidance developed by Ofsted to know what to expect in order to prepare for inspection, look at the Ofsted inspection handbook for your remit or the inspection toolkit – use the search box if necessary - inspection handbooks and toolkit
  • Use the Excellence Gateway as a first ‘port of call’ when researching areas that you would like to improve. As well as the Ofsted-related area, simple word searches will bring you a variety of information about what others in the learning and skills sector are doing to improve their provision. This is particularly useful for any newer areas that you may wish to research.