It seems PLP needs more planning

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Teaching is full of acronymns. Take the ever-present CPD (continuing professional development), the DHT or depute headteacher and, for some children, an IEP (individual education programme), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and possibly an RoN (record of needs).

Now I have a new one to remember: PLP. Personal learning planning is about to be introduced at my school. The aim is to get children more involved in their learning by encouraging them to set targets for what they want to achieve.

I have only been to one introductory meeting so far, but I gather the children will be using a computer program to help them identify things they would like to achieve at school. It could be a national test they hope to pass or improvements they would like to make in their work.

It sounds good in theory, but I have several reasons to be wary. First of all, within a week of getting involved in the initiative, I received a letter from the Educational Institute of Scotland asking what pressures personal learning planning was placing me under. Questions included: "Do you believe that the PLP process has created a new workload for you as a teacher?" (not sure yet) and "Do you believe that this increase is likely to be a permanent increase in your workload?" (I hope not).

Second, I attended an evening session hosted by my local authority where the speaker was very keen to emphasise that the PLP we would be doing was not as cumbersome as the PLP of the past, which she said "caused a whole lot of concern, with unions talking about workload, workload".

And third, I have a friend already piloting PLP who finds it extremely time-consuming. Her pupils are supposed to set targets for themselves every term in maths, reading and writing. They also have annual targets in personal and social development.

In theory, she is supposed to hold individual PLP conferences with each of her 30 pupils to identify their targets. Children use a traffic lights system to rate themselves against a list of 10 targets, with red highlighting areas of difficulty and green representing success. The intention is that the pupils are made more aware of what they are trying to achieve, which is a crucial ingredient in formative assessment.

In practice, however, my friend has been released from class for only 100 minutes since August. In that time, she has managed to set writing targets with just 12 of her pupils. So, while she thinks it is a worthwhile exercise, time constraints mean that she finds personal learning planning impossible to implement properly.

Another hurdle is the children's ability to self-assess. Some pupils have a misguided belief that they have very little to achieve, while others can be too hard on themselves and set an unnecessary number of targets.

Add to this the fact that a teacher is not supposed to steer pupils in their target setting, and the results of the planning process can be at odds with what a teacher believes a pupil really needs.

A key feature of PLP is that it is not supposed to be about an end product.

Rather, Parentzone Scotland describes it as "a conversation about learning"

which focuses on pupils' self-assessment.

At my friend's school, however, PLP has led to pupils keeping a record of achievement. Each term, pupils select their best piece of maths and language work, which is photocopied and placed in a special folder. This has proved not only time-consuming but expensive.

The next step is that teachers will tape-record the PLP consultations they hold with pupils, but this is also likely to put a strain on resources and storage space, while being of dubious benefit to the pupils.

My friend believes that the PLP process could work if more time was set aside for it, but, after four years of trying, no one at her school is managing to implement it properly, she says. Staff have made their concerns clear to the school's PLP working party, whose advice to teachers has been simply to "do the best you can".

As for myself, it remains to be seen what pros and cons the PLP process will present. It is already clear that the format PLP takes varies significantly from local authority to local authority and from school to school. So, perhaps the best bit of target setting the Scottish Executive Education Department could do would be to give the initiative some uniformity as soon as possible. That way, pupils and teachers would know exactly what it is they are trying to achieve.

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