Unique Learner Numbers (ULNs) – a bit about them and how to obtain them

From January 2014 it is a mandatory requirement that schools include ULNs in their school census return. A lot of information is available via DfE ICES Bulletins, but I’m trying to collate all the information into one place to make it easier to find and remember.

ICES Bulletin No 65 includes this statement:

Unique Learner Numbers (ULNs) will be mandatory within the school census in January 2014 for all pupils age 14 and above on census day. All schools need to register with the Learning Records Service (LRS) before January 2014 to manage the few ULNs that cannot be easily obtained through the school 2 school (s2s) system. As there are now only four months to go before ULNs must be included within the school census, schools that have not yet registered will need to as soon as possible.

The reasoning behind the ULN is to have a number that can be used by awarding organisations in England and Wales to upload A-Level and GCSE results directly into the Personal Learning Record (PLR). The PLR can be used to verify learners’ qualifications to quickly build up a picture of an individual’s achievement, enabling educators and trainers to offer them the best education or careers advice.

ICES Bulletin No 65 also states this:

When you have obtained ULNs for your Year 9 and above pupils, it is very important to let them and their awarding organisation know their ULN for exams. ULNs should be used when registering and making exam entries with awarding organisations. Unlike the UPN, the ULN has been designed to share pupils’ achievement with learners and F/HE colleges and universities as well as schools at the Personal Learning Record (PLR) online.

Providing the ULN to awarding organisations and pupils will allow the PLR to be populated with verified achievements will benefit each pupil as they move through their lifelong educational journey by speeding up HE and FE application and admissions process, as well as making it possible for individuals to demonstrate qualifications to a potential employer.

Links to standard privacy notices are given, for issuing to students once ULN’s are obtained.

To obtain ULN’s it is necessary to submit a Common Transfer File (CTF) to the S2S Service via the DfE Secure Access login. The CTF file is created within the school’s Management Information System (MIS), ensuring that the file includes Postcode information to enable ULN’s to be provided. Any MIS will have a Help Section which can give guidance on this.

If you are a member of the Examination Officers’ Association (EOA), I have already provided my instructions for setting up, exporting and importing CTF’s using SIMS, to My Exams Office Year (MEOY) [UPDATE: now called Exams Oracle] as an examplar document.

You may get an exception log when obtaining your CTF file, mostly these are for missing details such as “Student address exported but street is missing. Please update the address and export again” (some of our students live in rural locations, so don’t have a street in their address – in which case I ignore this), “UPN Missing or Invalid” (we have guest pupils from abroad which create this issue), or “CTF export includes pupils who already have ULNs” (which again I ignore).

You can save the log or print it to check the list of exceptions to make sure that there is nothing else you need to deal with.

Uploading CTFs

Log in to DfE Secure Access https://sa.education.gov.uk/idp/Authn/UserPassword then go to the S2S service and upload your CTF. Come back tomorrow and download the result file

Downloading CTFs

Log into S2S and access the ULN service. Expand the record to see what files you have to download, then click on a file to view the exceptions (probably due to missing postcode!)

Print a record of the Exceptions, so that you can follow them up after and then download the file of records – make a note of the filename and ensure that you save to the correct location for your MIS – you may be asked to overwrite other files. If you are not sure you can try adding a letter to the end, however these will not show up in the import folder, so it is better to pick a file name that has  not been used!

Importing CTFs

BEFORE you import the CTFs, it is a good idea to make sure that all entries or amendments have been submitted to awarding bodies – run a submissions routine (via A2C)  before you do the import (purely for tracking purposes, so that you know that only ULNs are being transmitted to the awarding bodies).

Again follow the most up to date guidance in the MIS Help section

Repeat for each file you received back

Then go back to your MIS exams module and re-run your Submissions routine to send the ULNs to the Awarding Bodies (via A2C).

Managing exceptions

You may have the following exceptions occur:-

The bulk of them will have this one:-

  • “Student already exists in the school, but some data might have been updated.”  That’ll be the ULN then!

You may also have these:-

  • Student had Temporary UPN recorded ? Updated to Permanent UPN from import file. That sounds OK.
  • Student has rejoined school, please readmit student. Some data items may be updated. I still need to find out what to do about this!
  • Student exists in Pre-admission group with status of Withdrawal.  Change Application Status to ‘Applied’ to re-instate. I gather this is a student who didn’t join the school roll, so I tend to ingore this one!
  • There may be others specific to your MIS – you will need to work out which ones need action and which you can ignore.

Dealing with Invalid or Incorrect ULN’s

I came across an invalid ULN when trying to submit Vocational achievements (no reports from the awarding body had been received) so I had to delete the ULN in order to input the student achievements.  Turns out that a change of name by Deed Poll means that I have to manually go into LRS and update the name details, so that the AB’s don’t get a reject on the name.

How to check exceptions and create new learners on the register

Logging in to Learning Records Service (LRS)

This is done via https://www.uklrs.miap.gov.uk/secure/

You should have already completed a registration with the Learning Records Service in order to receive a Username and Password for this site. Next you will be taken to a User Agreement page, where you need to click Agree in order to proceed on to a Welcome page

Finding exceptions

Click on Learner Management | View Exceptions – You will be presented with a list of exceptions following your CTF import through S2S. I haven’t got any, so cannot demonstrate how to deal with them here.

Finding a Learner

You can either search using ULN, or if you are unsure of, or don’t have, the ULN, you may search using personal details instead. You need to fill in all fields with a red star to be able to initiate the search:-

  • Given name
  • Family name
  • Date of Birth
  • Gender
  • Postcode

If the learner is not found, you can then go on to register them or amend their details accordingly.

Registering a learner

If you have a learner who you believe is not registered you can register them via Learner Management | Register Learner. The same information is required as when searching for a learner and the service will search to check that the learner is not already registered before you will be able to add them.

I hope that this has been helpful for you. If it has, perhaps you could let me know what was most useful. I can then be more focused in future posts to ensure that they help you out in your role.

BTEC deletion’s deadline looms

31 January – write that date in your diary!
Then email all your BTEC First course leaders and remind them that if they want refunds on their 2012-13 deletion’s they need to provide you with names TODAY!
Make sure that you email Pearson Edexcel to claim a refund too! The email address is in the Administration Manual. You will need the candidate registration number to claim the refund.
Good luck with balancing your budget.

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The Examinations Office is busy right now!

During October/November 2012 I am still working on Summer 2012 exams, I have forecast grades and exams to run for November 2012, I am planning January 2013 exams and setting up the Basedata for March and Summer 2013. So I’m currently working on five exam seasons at once.
I am also running weekly (or sometime more often) MidYIS and YELLIS tests for student who wish to join the school mid year. This allows them to be assessed to determine which tutoring sets to place them in.
BTEC registrations have now all been made and I have downloaded all the recent registrations to a spreadsheet so that I can track them all. I am currently preparing the school handbooks for the various BTEC areas so that they are up to date with the most recent regulations issued by Edexcel.
They are not the only documents that I’m updating, I have already created the school examination calendar and posted that to the school website so that parents, students and staff know when all the different exams are. I am still working on a guidance document for students and parents and the most recent version of the Invigilators handbook and training.
I also need to make sure that I am up to speed on all the regulations before Wednesday of this week, when I am host to our local Exam Officers Network meeting and the revised regulations are an agenda item.
Overall, things are quite busy at the moment as you can see. And I haven’t even mentioned the certificates that need checking in and sorting before the Presentation Evening in November.
If you are not an Exams Officer/Exams Manager, but work with one – please treat them with courtesy – they are not just ‘Admin’ staff (no-one is!), they have just as an important to role to do in the school as the next person.

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Juggling skills – Essential

One thing that all Exams Officers/Managers need to be able to do, is juggling!
Think of all the deadlines that you have coming up, along with all the other tasks you have to do and you will no doubt agree. Here is my list:
8 October = Transferred candidate deadline for November GCSEs
I have a meeting booked with our BTEC Quality Nominee to make sure that we get all our BTEC registrations done on time and correctly
9 October I am interviewing an Invigilator applicant
10 October = Estimated Entries deadline for summer 2013 exams
I am running CABT tests during P1 and P2 and during P3 I am meeting our Head of Science to ensure January GCSE entries are all in order. English and GCE entries signed off already.
After school staff training to attend tonight as well.
12 October = March Basedata is released, so another cycle kicks in to overlay the others

On top of this are the other tasks: create a school exam timetable for the year, check in GCSE certificates and sort them ready for presentation in November, print KS4 school achievement certificates for Head Teacher to issue to current year 10 and 11’s, prepare seating arrangements and book Invigilators for November exams, make entries for January exams, make BTEC registrations, upload new Year 7 photos to MIS, issue various letters / statement of entry lists / exam timetables to students, create various student lists for SLT for monitoring purposes, ensure that for new students starting I have all previous exams data available from previous school, invigilator management (training etc), read JCQ regulations AGAIN because they’ve changed them a great deal again this year.

A long list! Kept deliberately bunched up as a paragraph rather than a list so that it has to be read rather than scanned down quickly. Every EO’s list will be different and mine is actually longer than that, but to type it all wouldn’t have made any difference to the point of this post.
We are all busy and we all have different other roles besides our Exams one, but we still have to meet the deadlines or else!
Or else everything falls to pieces around us!

While you are juggling all your tasks and meetings, make sure that you have rest and relaxation too. The eye fails, the muscle moves too slow to catch the falling ball, all for want of a break, a moment to flex the muscles and stretch them out. I am taking all of half term for my holiday away this year. I have told staff that deadlines are earlier, that I won’t be around to do last minute entries or do last minute tweaks to anything. If they fail to deliver to me, I cannot deliver to the school, the students or to them. I hope they have been listening.

I shall be relaxing and juggling my decision about which book to read next or what tempting tasty morsel to eat!

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MidYIS testing 2010

Oops, this blog never got published, even though I finished it!
It’s still useful though, so have a look and I hope it is helpful…

MidYIS testing is done to determine the level that a year 7 is at when they first join secondary school. Because of that it needs to be done as soon as possible once the new school year starts.

From an Exams Manager’s point of view, this can be difficult to prepare in advance if your school MIS doesn’t roll over to the new academic year until it actually starts! My solution to this was to obtain timetabling information from those responsible, in advance. I received year 7 class lists and a rooms timetable for the schools week.

As we were doing the tests online for the first time I booked our IT suite rooms for the day and used rooms which were not timetabled for classes as much as possible (to save our Cover Manager having to do so many re-rooms on the 2nd day of term!)
I also created a domestic season in my exams management software (I use SIMS Exams Oraniser) and pre-populated it with the pastoral intake group. In order to ‘enter’ the year 7’s for the test and seat them, I issued them each with an ‘exams number’ (we use them from year 7 in my school). Then based on the class lists I had obtained, I seated them in their class groups.

The first day of term, I spent refining the entries based on non-starters and new additions. I made sure my invigilators were booked still and happy to come in for the whole day. I liaised with the Cover Manager to make sure that we had enough free teachers coming along to help with the supervision of the students. I confirmed all arrangements to SLT who made sure that staff were informed of the testing and what was required of them on the day, in terms of releasing students from lessons, escorting and supervising students. The IT team were on hand all day to help with any issues which cropped up (it always pays to include these guys on your planning).

I’d like to say that the day ran smoothly without a hiccup, but we had problems from the start. The majority of the year 7 students had not logged into the school network before and did not know how to (Learning point number 1), the testing software takes a long time to load up, more so if there is a large numer of students accessing is at the same time (Learning point number 2), County Council had not been informed in advance that we would be conducting the tests and were not expecting such a large volume of net activity (Learning point number 3), VirginMedia had a problem with one of their servers going down, which created major problems with connectivity (not much we could do about that one), I hadn’t planned in any time out for myself or my invigilator’s during the day and had to do some quick logistical shuflling in my head as I was zooming from room to room keeping things flowing (Learning point number 4), two students quit the test without completing it properly therefore no results were uploaded for them and they will need to retake the test (Learning point number 5).
Overall I have only 4 students out of the whole cohort who we need to do the test on another day (two of those were off ill on the day), so I’m not unhappy with the way the day went.

Improvement areas
There were a number of areas where I felt we could improve the way the testing happened. These have already been indicated in the text above, so I’ll just put my thoughts on improvement possibilities here.

Learning point 1
All year 7 students join a Vertical Mentor Group on their first day and spend time in these groups getting to know about how the school works. During this period they could also be introduced to the school computer network and login for the first time. This will not only ensure that they know how to login, but will enable their profiles to be initialised and set-up prior to them taking their tests.

Learning point 2
As the network becomes overloaded with 90 students accessing online tests at the same time, I will schedule the students in smaller batches of 60. This number of students worked better in the later sessions and so will probably be more easily accommodated throughout the day.

Learning point 3
County Council will be advised in advance that the tests will be taking place so that they can anticpate the increased burden on the network and plan accordingly. They will also be aware that it is not any rogue activity such as a virus increasing traffic.

Learning point 4
Although I intend to test fewer students at one time, I will retain the same number of invigilators. This will allow the invigilators to take time out for refreshments and lunch during the course of the day, without needing any last minute planing.

Learning point 5
Students will be advised at the outset, to complete the tests and finish them in the proper manner to avoid having to retake them again.

Summer entries – done and dusted

Summer entries were all completed and submitted on 10 February this year, as we had been told that our Internet connection would be unavailable during half term. Turns out plans were changed and we do have connection, but the entries got made just the same.
It’s given me chance to run some candidate progress reports for a couple of the subject HODs to double-check their entries before the deadline
I’ve also been through and checked for clashes – none found – big hurrah!
Then I’ve roomed every exam, ready for discussion with the Deputy Head after half term.
And I’ve sat on reception and answered the phone while I was doing all that today.
Quite pleased with what I’ve achieved today, after all.

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Exams office staff need to think about their holidays now

Now it’s coming to the end of the holiday year, it’s worth Exams Office staff thinking about the coming year. Ideally plan out a calendar of key dates, exams and such like so that you know when the busy periods are going to be. Then think around the dates when you are allowed to take holiday, for example in my school we may only take holidays during non-term time (difficult I know, and more expensive as well).
Then using your planner slot in the times when you MAY take holidays and pick the dates that you prefer.
Don’t forget to factor in any days that you are entitled to take as time off in lieu for the time you worked extra during the exams season. Make sure that this is also included in your contract so that you can’t be deprived of time that you worked for nothing. You have a right to be recompensed for your work.
I tend to take holiday the beginning of July as time off in lieu, October, Christmas, and February, along with a few extra days thrown in for relaxation when there is a short break at half term or the like, as holidays.
Make sure that you enjoy yourself, you deserve it – exams work is intense and tiring.

Exams finished for the day

Well, that’s the scripts checked off against the Attendance Registers and packed up ready to send. Stashed away in the safe until ParcelForce turn up to sign for them.
Now to make sure that everything is in order for Wednesday’s exam. I’ve got invigilator’s booked and allocated to their rooms, the seating plans are printed ready to go up the night before and the packs for the day are all prepared.
My colleague has spent the morning shadowing me and will hopefully be able to do the same on Wednesday to boost her confidence in the event of me ever being unable to get in to run the exams myself.
Time to take a look at the entries for Summer and the seating for March. But before that, some lunch I think. It’s important to look after one’s health when exams are on the go. :o)

Basedata downloaded for summer 2012

I downloaded all my basedata in really good time, the only issue I currently have is with AQA Further Mathematics which has a new style gradeset which SIMS needs a patch for, we had the patch but IT Tech upgraded before installing the patch and now the patch doesn’t work! It would help if Capita warned them about these matters!
I’ve got the bulk of the marksheets set up and all is ready for the teaching staff to make their entries for me. Science have me do bespoke mark sheets for them (which I gladly do, as they are always first to get their entries and forecast grades/coursework marks in – so it is worth a tiny bit of extra time) – I’ll be doing these for them at the start of January term.

My biggest gripe is now with Edexcel who have decided to make changes to their entry deadlines without consulting Exams Office staff (at least not to my knowledge). I don’t mind they they have extended the deadline, it’s the fact that they’re the only one and they told everyone! Now my Heads of Department who use Edexcel will want the extra month to make their entries and I want to to submit all AB entries at the same time.
The reasons?
1) I cannot sort out clashes for a extra month
2) I cannot arrange seating for an extra month
3) I cannot confirm invigilator’s for an extra month
4) I cannot send student personal timetables and documents for an extra month
5) I have a whole month less than I normally do to prepare all my exam arrangements.

Let’s hope that my email to the Deputy Head requesting his support for an Exams Office dictated deadline is supported. He knows that I have robust processes in place, so it makes sense to stick with them and discuss how modifications can be made to incorporate any AB changes for the future. I can see that there will be disagreements, but as the change does not require an implementation it should be simple enough to disregard for now, shouldn’t it?