SENCO Week explains the pros and cons of using Individual Education Plans (IEPs)

IEPs – a useful way of focusing on a child’s needs and how to meet them, or just another bureaucratic chore? This week we reflect on how IEPs, and IBPs (‘behaviour’) can be used sensibly as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves!

Support for SENCOs
The idea behind individual plans for children with special needs, is a good one: when a pupil is experiencing difficulties, identify what they are; decide on some appropriate action; do it, then review it. But in practice, a whole industry has grown up around designing templates, creating targets, measuring progress – and stressing over the whole business. SENCOs have literally made themselves ill in the process. In recognition of this (and concern for the rainforests), there have been moves to minimise the number of IEPs and many schools have used ‘provision mapping’ as a way of allocating different types of support to individuals. Pupils identified for ‘school action’ can certainly fit well into this type of planning and management of interventions.

Individual plans still play an important role however, especially for children with significant difficulties. For these pupils, a ‘bespoke’ approach may be needed and the important thing is that thought is given to the individual. Part of the reason for IEPs gaining such a bad reputation was that many tended to be generic, with a tendency to only ‘change the name’ sometimes; another reason is that they often didn’t see the light of day – kept neatly in the teacher’s desk drawer, or a filing cabinet, ready for when an inspector called!

An individual plan should be a working document, useful to all staff working with the pupil and constantly at hand: its design should allow for regular updates and comments (scribbled notes) by TAs, teachers and parents. In some schools, an extra sheet is attached to the IEP for daily/weekly updates, rather than waiting for the scheduled review – this makes much more sense in many ways. However you choose to set out IEPs (there are excellent software packages available that save a lot of time), make sure that:

  • targets are achievable, short-term and specific, so that everyone can see when each one has been met
  • the pupil is involved in the setting of targets whenever possible
  • targets are described in jargon-free language and clear to all concerned – not least the pupil himself/herself, who should be able to say ‘Today I hit one of my targets… I sat on the carpet for the whole story/spelled three new target words correctly/asked a question in class…’
  • teaching/behaviour management strategies are described with details of who will deliver them, when and where
  • necessary resources are listed
  • there is a date for review, and the names of people involved in reviewing.

The test of how well IEPs are used is whether a teacher knows about a pupil’s difficulties, plans accordingly and differentiates effectively in the classroom, science lab, studio, gym, etc, rather than the IEP being used only by the TA running a small group intervention. But be realistic about what you expect class teachers to do. They have 30 pupils to think about, in a limited amount of time. Give them guidance about what is achievable in lessons, without spending hours on preparing individual task sheets eg:

Check understanding frequently (TA could help here): explain new vocabulary – get Ben to practise saying and writing new words, especially those with tricky spellings.
Use Clicker program for recording (Mrs Todd can help with this).

  • Allow extra thinking time for answering a question ‘Abby, I shall ask you to tell me what you think after Sophie has finished speaking.’
  • Use the photocopier to enlarge print for Michael whenever possible.
  • Check that Adam is wearing the correct glasses (and that they are clean)/has his hearing aid switched on/has plenty of elbow space/room to manoeuvre.
  • Remember to face Kyle when you speak and use his name to ensure his attention.

Remember that targets can also be set for behaviour outside the classroom, during breaks and lunchtime, when supervisors may also need to be aware of expectations and how to register achievements.

Involving pupils in decisions about their IEPs and types of support provided is something that everyone acknowledges as a ‘good thing’, but in practice, is not always well done. It may not always be appropriate for a child to attend review meetings, but a one-to-one with the SENCO or TA/mentor beforehand can provide useful information about ‘client satisfaction’ and insight into how a child is responding to the support on offer.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2007

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.