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. 🙂

Exams staff need to take their holidays

Have you booked your holidays for the coming year yet? By 8 April last year I had planned the majority of my year. I had booked 4 days after Easter, a week in July, October half term and a week at Christmas. None of which conflicted with any of the deadlines for exams related matters and at the same time met the requirements of my employers for when I may take my holidays. It seems that if you work in ‘exams’, regardless of what you are doing, it has to be well planned 🙂

Things a new Exams Officers should know…About planning exams

You are probably aware of the January exams that are starting this week. My first exam is a Diploma exam taking place on the morning of 12 January, it’s also my first Diploma exam.

In preparing for this I have applied the tools and techniques that I use for planning and preparing for my GCSE exams and have adapted them where there are differences.

For example I have a checklist so that I make sure that candidates and staff know what is going on; and to ensure that I don’t forget anything! Here is an extract from my checklist:

Candidate entries

  • Statement of entry
  • Personal timetable
  • Notice to candidates
  • Covering letter
  • Clash instructions letter if appropriate

Pre-exam preparation

  • Book Parcelforce collections if ad hoc collections required
  • Arrange for SLT cover at start and finish of exams, via Cover Manager
  • Circulate alphabetical attendance lists to Heads of Department/Faculty
  • Provide alphabetical attendance list per exam to Attendance Manager
  • Arrange bag storage rooms and display
  • List items required for individual exams and display as poster in advance
  • Display seating plans on veranda

Caretaker preparations

  • Blackboard on veranda for display of exams information
  • Clocks in main exam rooms
    • Present
    • Working
    • Correct time
  • Rooms
    • Being used
    • Layout requirements
  • Lunch arrangements
    • Agree with SLT
    • Arrange with Senior Caretaker
    • Advise Cover Manager for Bulletin

Catering team preparations

  • Timetable of examinations
  • Details of when Dining Hall needs to be put out of use due to exams in the adjacent Hall

Half day exam folders

  • Seating plans
  • Attendance registers
  • Candidate desk labels
    • Different colour per exam / exam tier
  • Room specific paper requirements
    • tier and quantity per room
    • sort papers and tag accordingly (within your secure storage) – I write the rooms and how many papers per room on the outside of the packages
  • Invigilator rooming sheets (so they know where to go)
  • Invigilator briefing (per exam)
  • Signing in sheets for invigilators
  • Cover sheets for scribes/transcripts/practical assistants/word processors/oral language modifiers
  • Green AA cards for candidate desks (so candidates and invigilators know Access Arrangement entitlements)

Please feel free to use this for your own exams and adapt it as you need to. If you think of anything that others may want to consider in addition to that which I have given here, please do so in the comments below. It is not an exclusive list and I do change it to suit the needs of the moment, adding or removing items as necessary.

If anyone wants to know how I manage Access Arrangement candidates, this may well be part of a future post. Let me know of other areas of exams management you might want me to post about.

Things a new Exams Officer should know… About Diploma admin

I mentioned in my post on 15 November about more specific posts. I hadn’t intended to make the first one about the Diploma, but in helping a fellow Exams Officer last week I  gathered the information that would form the basis of this.

Useful reference documents can be found on the QCDA website | Qualifications | Diploma | Diploma Administration


Or on the Nuts and Bolts website


Quick check list

To administer the Diploma candidates, you need to follow the following steps – in order:

  1. Make sure every student has a Unique Learner Number (ULN)
  2. Ensure you are able to access Diploma Aggregation Service (DAS) and you have set up all the roles for staff who will use it
  3. Create an association with a Diploma Awarding Body (DAB) in DAS
  4. Obtain Planned Programme of Study (PPoS) from teaching staff for each candidate and ensure home centre receives this.
  5. Validate the PPoS via the Validation site
  6. Open Learn Account for each Diploma Student
  7. Register with a DAB on DAS
  8. Register students for Principal Learning

Helpful information about DAS

Diploma aggregation service Quick guide Summer 2010


Diploma aggregation service User guide for centres Summer 2010


Obtaining ULNs

Acquire ULNs for all your Diploma students at the beginning of first year of study at the latest.

There are two routes to obtaining ULNs:

MIAP Learner Registration Service (LRS)


ULNs can also be obtained from the Learner Register (secure portal) which is provided by the Learning Records Service. Your head of centre or other authorised person must sign the service’s organisation agreement, which enables you to access the secure portal. Please contact the service’s customer helpdesk on 0845 602 2589 or email lrssupport@learningrecordsservice.org.uk

School to School website

(Using S2S enables a Common Transfer File (CTF) to be obtained which can be uploaded into your schools MIS)


The Department for Education’s ULN service allows schools to access and maintain ULN information for their Diploma students via the School to School (S2S) website. This ULN service replaces the ULN feature on the Key to Success (K2S) website. As well as retrieving ULNs, the ULN service automatically updates the Learner Register when student data is uploaded from a school’s MIS. We recommend that schools perform a termly upload to the ULN service to keep the Learner Register up-to-date because this data is continually referenced by the Diploma aggregation service and awarding bodies. You can download the ULN service user guide and FAQs from this page. FE colleges should continue to use the Learning Records Service (formerly MIAP) to acquire ULNs. Remember to inform your awarding bodies of any changes to existing learner data.

Setting up DAS for your Centre

Ensure you or another appropriate centre representative signs up to the online QCDA DAS centre agreement.

Nominate a local administrator as part of the process for signing up to the online QCDA DAS centre agreement.

Setting up Roles in DAS

There are a variety of roles in DAS, these are:

  1. learner administrator – can open, manage and monitor learner accounts
  2. management information user – can extract management information reports
  3. learner data viewer – can view and extract information from learner accounts
  4. learner data maintainer – can open and edit learner accounts
  5. personal, learning and thinking skills and work experience recorder – can record completion of these elements
  6. Learner Diploma awarding body relationship manager – can register learners’ Diplomas with Diploma awarding bodies and manage Diploma award claims.

Creating an association with a DAB

The association is created using DAS by entering an alias for every Diploma awarding body. Your centre’s alias is always your National Centre Number (NCN).

Planned Programme of Study

There is a study pack on the QCDA website, where a variety of helpful documents can be downloaded to help with the preparation of the PPoS.


PPoS Validation

There is a separate website for validation of PPoS’s


Make sure that you have all the information required to complete the PPoS prior to getting started. You will need:

  1. Line of Learning
  2. Level [NB: Level 2 = Higher]
  3. Principal Learning QAN and Title
  4. Functional Skills QAN and Title (for English, ICT and Maths)
  5. Project QAN and Title
  6. Additional and Specialist Learning (ASL) Awarding Body, Qualification, QAN and Title

There is a guide that can be downloaded from the site.

PPoS’s can be uploaded to the validator.

Click Validate once all details are entered and print the results

Opening Learner Accounts

Open learner accounts in the Diploma aggregation service (DAS) using the ULNs for your students. [HINT: Use the Diploma aggregation service Quick guide]

Inform other DAS users in your centre and consortium once the accounts are open.

Register with DAB

Some Diploma awarding bodies require registration. This is not connected to principal learning registration, and will need to be done via the Diploma aggregation service (DAS).

The Diploma awarding body will then be able to anticipate your needs and provide support.

Once you have opened learner accounts, it’s advisable to set an intention to claim a Diploma award for all students who require a Diploma award on results day. This, however, can be done at any time up to the end of March in the year of award.

Find out which Diploma awarding body you’ll be using for each line of learning.

Register with that awarding body using DAS.

Set an intention to claim for each Diploma student if you choose to at this stage.

Register students for Principal Learning

Some component awarding bodies require registration for principal learning, and this should be undertaken by the home centre.

Find out whether the component awarding body you are using requires registrations for principal learning.

Make registrations following component awarding body processes (if required) by the deadline set by the component awarding body. You use the usual awarding body processes to do this – basedata and electronic data interchange (EDI) or via the secure online site. This is not done in the Diploma aggregation service.

All entries for Diploma qualifications should be made by the centre where the assessment will take place. Qualification results for principal learning will be accredited to the home centre and will require a cash-in or award entry. It is essential that you share information from Diploma learner study plans with exams office staff in assessment centres, so that they can make entries for your students when required. Entries should be made directly with the component awarding bodies, not via the Diploma aggregation service.

Find out the entry deadlines for each Diploma qualification.

Ensure everyone in your consortium knows which centre is entering students for each unit or qualification.

Ensure teaching staff are aware of the entry deadlines.

Enter students who will be taking assessments at your centre with the relevant component awarding body.

Make sure that each student’s ULN is used with every entry or registration for all qualifications.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the QCDA website, from where I drew most of this information, but have simply consolidated it into one place, for ease of access. The QCDA website still remains your first point of reference for Diploma (and mine).

Things a new Exams Officer should know

There are some things that new Exam Officers are told that could be advisedly called myths. I’m thinking of statements like this: “Once you’ve done a whole year, you’ll know what you’re doing”. Whilst this is, in the main, true, it doesn’t give new EO’s the full picture.
They do learn all about the planning, regulations, coping with last-minute changes, recruiting and training invigilators, access arrangements and the myriad other aspects of the role. However, what they are not told is that they will never know everything there is to know about running exams.
Why? Because they are continually changing!
In the last 3 years (at my school) we have stopped doing DiDA’s, started offering OCR Nationals, increased our offering of BTEC’s dramatically and offer non-standard exams to students whose home language is non-English (so that they may obtain a GCSE in their native language).
Also there have been other changes introduced, for example, there is the Diploma – run by consortia of schools. The student attends any of the schools for study and exams, while still being based at the Home school. For this a whole new raft of processes and e-tools have been introduced. For example, EO’S need to know how to obtain ULN’s (Unique Learner Number’s) from the LRS (Learner Registration Service) or Key to Success websites. Once obtained, these numbers need to be imported into the school’s MIS (Management Information System) before any entries are made for Diploma students. The numbers are a key element in pulling all the student qualifications into their Diploma, so it is important that an EO with Diploma students obtains them at the start of the academic year.
A series of articles will follow on from this post to add greater depth to the requirements of the EO role across its remit (not just the Diploma which is just one of the facets).