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.

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  1. Allan Lewis

    There seems to be a complete void as far as awareness of these is concerned. I have spoken to learners and training organisations and few, if any, seem to have been bothered to look at this yet.
    Publicity needs to be ramped up – but perhaps there is an aversion to increased debt in the current economic climate?

  2. “Some” awarding bodies, but not to the best of my knowledge C&G, EDEXCEL or OCR, so it’s pretty pointless…
    And that’s before we get started on HE who don’t want a damn thing to do with it, or schools/DfE who fill the database with so much rubbish mainly based on information last updated when learners were 11.
    LRS need powers of compulsion to make these people come in line, it’s the only way the system is ever going to be of any use (imagine if companies could opt out of using NI numbers, ULNs should become the educational equivilant), and even then, it’ll not be of use to FE as an end user until they can get the GCSE results of 16 year-olds on to the PLR by the start of September, which everyone I’ve ever spoken to at the LRS have said is pretty much the impossible dream.
    I’ve been involved with ULNs since they were still sequential, and have probably generated knocking on for 100,000 over the last five and a half years and at no point has a learner ever contacted the college I’ve been working at to ask about it, public knowledge of the scheme (with the exception of learners at Lewisham College, of course!) is basically zero.

  3. Tony Braithwaite

    This morning I posted a reply to FE Connect following an announcement that Welsh Schools have now bought in to the ULN. My point was that the LRS has been of little use to us apart from our Offender Learning Contract where it has helped avoid duplicating learning when an offender moves to another prison, but apart from that it has been a burden on the admissions/CIS team. We can’t get GCSE results and no one seems to understand the need to prove who they are and why.

    If LRS is going to work the AOs need to be told to provide data and in a timely way and it needs some serious promoting.

    If not, scrap it and pass the funding to the front line.

  4. Jon Brown

    “Since the introduction of the LRS, it is estimated the UK education sector has benefited from £56.9 million of avoided costs”
    I haven’t noticed any savings whatsoever from this initiative, just extra work and costs to support it – Where have the cost savings been? – certainly not in the Colleges

  5. By any estimation, 800 is a pathetically low number and how many of these are College MIS staff ‘testing’ the system?

    The LRS keep telling us about all the benefits we get from the system and seem to think if they keep saying its useful, then it will, by default, become useful. It isn’t.

    How did this project ever get the go ahead on the basis that it would be compulsory for Colleges to generate ULNs, but not for Awarding Bodies to publish data to the PLR? How can it ever be useful to have a personal record of achievement, but excluding C&G, EdExcel, etc.?

    Keep up the work FE Week and please can your next FOI request be for data on Lifelong Learning Accounts, the next FE white elephant.

  6. Mei Cheung

    The idea was reasonable but it has not worked. Most learners go through the enrolment process with little or no knowledge or understanding of their ULN. Colleges have to process ULNs because it is a field on the ILR. It has become an administrative process with no benefit to-date, adding more work to already stretched MIS/student services teams.

  7. We are a charitable organisation offering Health & Social Care qualifications. We have put in place a system for capturing the required ULN data and have started to generate ULN’s. I have found several learners already have ULN’s but the data submitted is very limited. Learners are never aware they have already been issued with a ULN. I am finding it very confusing on how achievements find their way onto PLR’s. The Awarding Organisation have been unable to help and the LRS, I have been referred to the Data Service but not received contact from them yet. I do not even know how a learner accesses their own PLR, I keep finding conflicting information. We are doing our best to conform to requirements, but also finding this is taking up a great deal of time.