Your child may be experiencing difficulties at school. In your discussions with their class teacher or with the school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) you may hear the term 'individual education plan' or the commonly used abbreviation 'IEP' mentioned. This will be in reference to the support which is to be put in place to help your child. Here, we explain what IEPs are and how you can be involved when they are written and reviewed.
What is an IEP?
An IEP is a document that helps teaching staff to plan for your child, teach them, and review their progress.
IEPs are different for each child and should set out what should be taught, how it should be taught and how often. There isn't a standard UK format for IEPs and some local authorities use different names for them, such as a personal learning plan (PLP) or provision mapping. Whatever term is used in your local area, the information on this page is still relevant.
The IEP should contain details of short-term targets and strategies for a particular pupil, which are different from or additional to those in place for the rest of the group or class. The document must be accessible and understandable to all concerned. It should be agreed, with your involvement and, wherever possible, your child's. It's important for you to be fully involved at this first stage.
What should be in an IEP?
- What the agreed targets are
- What help should be given
- How the help is to be given
- Who will give the help
- How often the help will be given
- How it will be decided if the help has been successful (you may see the phrase 'success criteria')
- How it will be decided if the help is no longer needed
- When the help is to be reviewed
- A section for recording what help has actually been given and if progress has been made, which may include suggestions for future action.
IEPs should focus on up to three or four key short-term targets for your child. The targets should relate to the following areas:
- social skills.
For children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) targets are likely to focus on communication, social inclusion and flexibility.
An IEP shouldn't set too many targets at one time and should limit itself to current, agreed priorities.
Targets should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
If specific targets set in an IEP are achieved, it means that the extra help has been successful. New targets then need to be set at an IEP review (see the section 'Reviewing IEPs' for more details).
Alternatively, it may be decided that the help given has been so successful that an IEP is no longer needed.
When should IEPs be used?
IEPs should be used to set out the kinds of extra help offered to individual students and pupils who need it through Early Years Action or Early Years Action Plus, or School Action or School Action Plus. They should also be used for children with statements of special educational needs.
If a child moves from Action to Action Plus or from either of these to a statement they should have a new IEP. It's likely that a new IEP will be drawn up after each review too, as the targets on them should be short-term.
If a pupil has a statement, the short-term targets and strategies set out in their IEP should be linked to the overall objectives and provision set out in his statement.
Whatever system is in place at a particular school or educational setting, time must be set aside for writing, teaching and reviewing IEPs. All IEP targets must be achievable for both the pupil and teacher: they should be small steps, so that success is clearly visible to the pupil, the parents and the teacher.
Regular periods of time to work with the pupil, or for the pupil to be working at specific IEP targets, should be recorded in the teacher's daily or weekly teaching plans for the class.
IEPs should be kept continually under review. As a minimum, IEPs should be reviewed at least twice a year and parents and the child concerned should be consulted about the reviews. The Special educational needs code of practice says that termly reviews would be best and for some pupils (particularly younger children) even more frequent reviews may be suitable. Reviews can be carried out at parents' evenings. If so, parents should be given a longer than usual appointment so that there is time to talk about the IEP.
You may wish to check your child's IEP against the list in the 'What should be in an IEP?' section and think about each point before you go to a review meeting.
Reviews of IEPs should not be confused with the statutory annual review that is carried out for children with a statement. However, the child's IEP should be discussed as part of the statutory annual review meeting.
What does this mean in practice? If your child has an IEP, this is what teachers should consider when reviewing it:
- their progress
- your views as parents
- your child's views of their own progress
- how effective the IEP has been
- anything that is affecting your child's progress
- any updated information and advice
- future action, including changes to targets or strategies.
After considering your child's progress, the targets to be achieved by the next review should be set by appropriate staff with your involvement and, if possible, with your childs input too.
The role of teaching staff and specialists
All staff in schools or educational settings who may come into contact with your child should be aware of the targets and strategies in his IEP. Staff should feed back to the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) and/or class teacher as appropriate.
A SENCO shouldn't be the only person responsible for devising and delivering IEPs in a school. Depending on your child's needs and the size of the school, the SENCO may need to oversee the process for all pupils with special educational needs, providing advice and support to class teachers as and when necessary.
All early education settings and schools should have clear guidelines that set out:
- who will prepare IEPs
- how IEP targets will be taught
- who will teach the IEP targets
- how IEPs will be recorded, for example written records may be kept
- how all staff who teach your child will know about his IEP
- how new staff will be told about your child's IEP, including when he moves into a new school year, or to a new school.
Professionals from outside the school, such as a specialist teacher, an educational psychologist or a speech and language therapist, might provide advice to help prepare the IEP. They might also make additional specialist assessments, or be involved in teaching your child directly. When IEPs are developed with the help of specialists, the strategies in the IEP should usually be used, at least in part, in the normal classroom setting. It will be helpful for you to find out which specialists, if any, will be working with your child.
To summarise, IEPs should:
- raise achievement for pupils with special educational needs
- use a simple format and be seen as working documents
- detail provision and targets which are additional to or different from that generally available for all pupils
- be jargon-free and easily understood by all staff and parents
- be distributed to all relevant staff
- promote effective planning
- help pupils to monitor their own progress
- result in good planning and intervention (ie timely and appropriate help) by staff
- result in the achievement of specified learning goals for pupils with SEN.
Remember, you know your child better than anyone. If you have any concerns about your child's education, talk to staff at the school.