More than 14m learner accounts unused

Less than 0.01 per cent of more than 14 million learning accounts have been accessed directly by learners, figures obtained by FE Week reveal.

The statistics, released in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), show only 800 learners have accessed their Personal Learning Record (PLR), out of 14,166,906 Unique Learner Numbers (ULN) which have been created to give them access.

The PLR is managed by the Learning Records Service (LRS), a team of 17 staff within the SFA which enables the sharing of learner and achievement data across the education and skills sector.

The provision and maintenance of the ULN, which the FoI response says cost £7.2 million to implement, is also one of the services delivered by the LRS.

the total number of learners that have accessed their record directly to date is 800.”

It was first piloted back in 2006, before being rolled out in 2008, with access for the first learner to the LRS in January 2009.

However, the SFA, in the FoI document, say access to the accounts by learners will increase when they are promoted actively.

It reads: “It is not possible to quantify all the interactions on behalf of a learner.

“However, 1.76 million individual learner records have been accessed and updated.

“Many of these transactions will have been triggered to support a learner such as enabling a claim for public funding of learning.

“Direct access for learners to their records has not been actively promoted and the total number of learners that have accessed their record directly to date is 800.

“We expect this figure to rise significantly with the roll out of easier ways for learners to access their record online and promotion of routes, such as via Lifelong Learning Accounts in England.”

Denise Gledhill, head of funding and learner records at Wakefield College, said there seems to be a “general lack of awareness” about the LRS.

She added: “As a college, we incorporate standard information about the LRS within the Learning Agreement at enrolment, as required.

“Only two learners, from around 8,000 learners enrolled so far this year, have contacted my team this academic year, to request their ULN.”

Although admitting it is difficult to quantify time and money invested in LRS, Mrs Gledhill said that on average, one member of staff spends 20 per cent of the week investigating ULNs – which includes matches, duplicates and serious errors.

She also said: “We are not opposed to the principle of ULNs and the Personal Learning Record, but as a college we are currently seeing no benefit from the LRS.”

It is not the first time concerns have been raised about ULNs and Personal Learning Records – as its use by awarding bodies has previously been questioned.

Little more than a year ago, the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) raised members’ issues on the system over lack of control and responsibility for errors.

At the time, FAB’s chief executive Jill Lanning also said that exam boards were “nervous” over the prospect of confidential data being shared.

Meanwhile, in November, at an information authority meeting, the group “expressed concern that they have to put a lot of time and effort” into ULNs, but they said awarding bodies “do not seem to have bought” into them.

Mrs Lanning, speaking to FE Week, said: “We are still discussing details with the LRS about moving forward.

“Some awarding bodies are signed up to it, with some only for a trial period, but some are still biding their time to decide.”

The LRS provides services to more than 7,600 organisations, including schools, FE providers, higher education institutions, careers services and awarding organisations.

Since the introduction of the LRS, it is estimated the UK education sector has benefited from £56.9 million of avoided costs, while total salary costs including for all LRS staff were £847,722.54 for 2010/11 and £463,395.15 for 2009/10.

The increase is explained by the “recruitment of a permanent team following completion of the programme” that set up the service.

However, the SFA was unable to comment further at the time of going to press.