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Inclusive learning plans: inspiring all learners to thrive

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ILPs, or individual learning plans, first began as a way to help learners understand how to succeed. Although they are often now pinned to academic outcomes like specific grades or qualifications, they can and do still help learners at every level take their next steps.  

When we're thinking about inclusivity in education, we're focusing on learners with special needs/additional learning needs or disabilities, learners with missing or disrupted education, and learners who might struggle to access or continue education because of outside factors.  

In this third instalment of our introduction to ILPs, we'll be looking at inclusive target setting, making targets and reviews accessible, and ensuring your targets recognise your learners' diverse emotional, cultural, social, and academic needs. 

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Inclusion for success 

Further education is the expert sector for inclusion. Its reach stretches from specialist colleges to higher education institutes (HEIs) and covers adult education, prison provision, work-based learning and short courses. There's a reason it's referred to as the Cinderella sector – FE is where learners can find their chance to shine. 

 "UNESCO promotes inclusive education systems that remove the barriers limiting the participation and achievement of all learners, respect diverse needs, abilities, and characteristics and that eliminate all forms of discrimination in the learning environment"
Inclusion in education (unesco.org)

Creating inclusive spaces in education is ongoing, democratic work – it cannot succeed without the engagement and input of learners. In the case of creating meaningful targets, we also need the engagement of the learner's community of support. This might mean their SENCo or learning support assistant can set, update or complete targets on their behalf or that targets are shared with parents or carers. It might be that learners need the opportunity to sit and discuss their targets face-to-face or that their targets need to be smaller and easily completed within a day or two of setting to reduce anxiety. 
 

Helping learners describe their ambitions 

It can be helpful to reframe our understanding of inclusion around intersectionality: the concept that people are rarely only marginalised in one way. This helps us to understand, for example, that a learner who is a refugee might also experience disadvantage because of their gender, colour, disability/ies or economic situation.  

"As long as a single category of difference among children (primarily disability) continues to be the main focus of inclusive education, its further implementation will be fraught with assumptions that inclusive education is only the further development of special education. This is especially alarming when it is noted that each child is not only a child with disabilities, but is also a child with numerous other identities."
Intersectionality: A pathway towards inclusive education? | SpringerLink

For our learners, that might mean that they can't begin to describe their goals or hopes for the future: FE is the first time they have had the opportunity to start afresh. Equally, they might have big ambitious goals that need help from their teachers, tutors, support teams and family. The ILP is where you can bring together all the steps to make their dreams into a series of realistic objectives. 

Don't be afraid to invite learners to take time to think about their goals. Those big dreams can help them keep going when they're finding college difficult, and it can take time for them to find the confidence to share them. Remind them to think about their biggest, most audacious, exciting, ambitious dreams – after all, just because they've never seen a disabled astronaut, that doesn’t mean there will never be a disabled astronaut. 

 
Targets without grades 

Individual learning plans (ILPs) can be particularly useful when learners aren’t working towards a specific grade, qualification, or outcome. Small, attainable targets can be a triumph, and they can help learners celebrate hard-won achievements. Try setting targets for things learners can already achieve and making them a little more ambitious – that might be taking steps unaided, managing the bus journey home, or completing a conversation in their second language. 

Don’t forget to share targets with parents, carers, family/whanau, employers, and other teachers, so that a learner can celebrate their achievements. Outlining data sharing and getting consent can help you establish who helps your learner and how. Employers for work placements and work-based learning might like to be involved in target-setting early, so they have a clear idea of how your learner works best before the placement happens. 
 

Accessible Individual learning plans (ILPs) 

We can’t discuss inclusion without considering accessibility. If you use a digital ILP, it should be fully accessible to learners and staff. This means it can be navigated by a screenreader, has reasonable levels of colour contrast, and the language used is clear and straightforward. A series of standards for accessibility (WCAG 2.1 AA) apply to ILPs offered online, and your provider should be able to tell you whether your digital ILP meets these standards. 

Having an ILP that is mobile-responsive can help learners who don’t have regular access to a laptop or desktop. This kind of functionality improves access for all learners – and providing it for staff also ensures teachers, tutors and assessors based in workshops or in the field can complete work in situ. The easier you make it for participants to add and complete targets and add to their reviews, the more ‘sticky’ the practice becomes, making target-setting more valuable and effective.  

If you’re still using a paper document, or ‘digital paper’ like a spreadsheet or Word document, it can be helpful to offer this on coloured paper and with expanded font size. You might also want to consider ‘social stories’ or visual images to describe the targets – this can help non-verbal learners to describe and understand their targets. For digital ILPs, upload these along with the keywords you’re using, to ensure everyone working with the learner can help them understand what is happening. 

Don’t forget that you can ‘layer’ ILPs. Make sure someone is focusing on cultural and social inclusion, so you’re thinking about your learner’s place in their community. If you’re setting academic targets, ensure they’re backed up with useful learning habits, so the learner knows how to replicate their successes in the future. If you’re sharing targets with parents or carers, set targets that invite their input, recognising their contribution to the learner’s continued growth. 

In summary 

We’ve shared how inclusive ILPs can help your learners describe and recognise their ambitions and how you can include their community. Digital ILP solutions can make this easier, allowing you to invite contributions from the learner’s support staff, family/whanau, and employer or sponsor.  
 
Understanding that every learner’s experience of disadvantage will be different, offering an accessible, flexible approach to target-setting can ensure every learner feels included and understood. For more on inclusion, start with Joanna Grace from The Sensory Projects 

5 Steps to create an effective ILP: Read the blog