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Workload fears hit learning plans

Personal learning plans (PLPs) should not try to cover too much ground, according to an independent evaluation of the programme published this week.

The ambitious initiative is at the heart of the Education Minister's key policy of individualised learning. But unions have warned Peter Peacock about increased workload and administrative burdens.

The evaluation of the two-year pilot phase, based on the experiences of 32 schools involved, acknowledges that unless the planning is well-managed there will be problems. It found that "concerns about workload were prevalent". Staff development was therefore essential.

Schools told of their apprehension once the project moved on to include larger numbers of pupils, in particular "how the crucial and time-consuming process of dialogue with pupils could be sustained beyond the pilot exercise". The frequently "laborious" collation of information, particularly in secondary schools, could be alleviated through greater use of classroom assistants and IT, the report suggests.

None the less, the study concluded that the "enriched dialogue" teachers had with pupils about their achievements and learning needs was welcomed.

Teachers also liked the "learning-focused discussion" with pupils, particularly because it led to more accurate targets and teaching.

Lower-achieving pupils gained as much benefit as others, schools reported.

But the evaluation said that, while pupils were generally enthusiastic at the start, there had to be careful planning in place to ensure progression.

Otherwise "the continuing review and goal-setting process could be experienced as repetitive".

The report warns, however, that learning plans must be "less ambitious in coverage" if there is to be sufficient time to review pupils' progress and plan next steps. Schools found it difficult to link PLPs to the formal curriculum while at the same time putting the emphasis on personal development.

The researchers suggest there may be fundamental implications for schools if focusing on the individual learner is to be a success. This may require "a significant shift in emphasis from the traditional curriculum to all aspects of the developing young person. In turn, such a shift may necessitate change in school organisation and learning approaches."

This chimes with the most recent comment on the subject by Mr Peacock, who told last month's conference of the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (SELMAS) that he wanted to see more personalised learning than ever before.

"Schools must not be a production line," the Education Minister commented.

"Every child has different abilities, different capacities, different enthusiasms."

The research study also raises the issue of whether a distinction should be drawn between personal learning and personal development. The latter, it states, may involve sensitive handling if pupils are found to be taking drugs or alcohol.

Personal Learning Plan Programme 2002-04: evaluation. By Pamela Robertson of Education and Software Consultants and John Dakers of the department of educational studies at Glasgow University.

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