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.


You need ULN’s

You still need to be acquiring ULN’s for your candidates. It will be compulsory from next year. Good idea to have a practice this year and write yourself some notes to remind you ‘How to’ next year when there is more pressure. 🙂

Exam Officer’s Conference

Tomorrow, the 10th annual conference of the Exam Officer’s Association will take place at Wyboston Lakes, St Neots. It is the first time that I will attend. I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new people from the Exams community, to learning as much as I can, and to building a network of contacts with whom I can share best practice in the future. I’m a new Exams Manager compared to many of my peers, but I get a lot of pleasure from my work. As a new-ish Exams Manager I set up a twitter account ‘Examsmgr’ so that I could share the things that I think I would have found useful when I was just starting out 3 years ago (and I can’t believe time has gone so quickly, that it is 3 years, either!).
OCR is interested in communicating with the Exams community via Twitter and I really hope that they do take the idea forward, as it is such a quick and immediate tool. I will hopefully be able to convince them of this during the conference, as well as encouraging many other Exam Officers and Managers to get involved on Twitter.