Individual Education Plans – a different perspective

May 30, 2018

Schools have individual education plans because they are a legal requirement for students with Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, writes Dr Emma Goodall.

BOOK SIGNING: Emma Goodall at the recent Altogether Autism conference.

They may also choose to have individual education plans for other students who are struggling with aspects of school.

The Ministry of Education has a variety of templates for schools to use or they are free to devise their own. Internationally this seems to be the case, no matter what the plans are called. However anecdotal evidence (observed in various countries over the last 20 years) indicates that even the most caring of teachers are unlikely to even try and implement any individual education plan over two pages in length, with most going straight into the filing cabinet and remaining there until the review 3-12 months later.

If your child has ORS funding, they should have a minimum of two individual education plans a year.

My research indicated four shorter plans held each term was more effective for the child and their teacher.

Short plans (1-2 pages A4 max of three goals) seems to be the ones most widely used, often staying in the teacher’s planning folder to be checked weekly and also being shared with other staff involved in supporting the student.

Some schools seem to think that there should be a goal for every area of the curriculum or for each key competency.

This may or may not be relevant for your child, if it is not, speak up and suggest that fewer but more relevant SMART goals are set.





Time bound (i.e., to be achieved before the next individual education plan)


Additionally, some schools ask the class teacher to be responsible for the plan whilst others refuse to let this happen and it is firmly in the domain of the special needs coordinator or the deputy principal/assistant principal or principal. Rarely do teacher aides attend, even though often they are tasked with carrying out most of the individual education plan activities tasks! This is because plans are usually held outside of school hours and teacher aides are not available (or paid) to attend.

There has been a lot of New Zealand research about the need to involve students in their plans, something that I admit to be reluctant to do. The reason for their involvement is that they should be able to set at least one of the three goals (with family setting one, and school the final one), and that they should be able to celebrate their plan successes at each successive review and new plan.

My reluctance is because of the tension that is often present at plan meetings, where either whanau and/or teachers/schools are being defensive. In years past plans were used to ensure continued access to funding, which, as it is needs based, tended to ensure plans were very negative and full of what the child can’t do.

As this is no longer the case, plan meetings should be much more positive and look at what the child is able to do, what next steps (goals) should be set and then how to get there.

Sadly from a whanau and child perspective, that ‘how to get there’ can result in some quite overwhelming emotions and/or confronting conversations – which are usually around funding issues. Some ardent proponents of student involvement in their own IEPs have got around this by having a video submission or attendance at a small part of the meeting or even through the use of narrative assessment. I would suggest that if you feel the meeting will be negative, to not take your autism spectrum child along as our fixated thoughts can become stuck in perceived and overheard negativity about our potential and our skills.

From a whanau point of view, individual education plans can often feel overwhelming and daunting. A mother, whom I was representing and supporting, recently remarked to me as we left a plan meeting; “I feel as if there was so much unspoken and I saw that look across the table when I asked if my child could stay for the whole school day.” Sadly, she was right!

One of the ways to combat this is to insist on a piece of your child’s work that is representative of success to be present in the room and to direct focus to that at the start and end of the meeting. Unfortunately, because goals are things that your child cannot yet do, even the discussion around goals can be distressing. To avoid this, if your child has not already picked a goal, before the meeting, sit down with them and think about what you would like for your goal and what they would like for theirs. Take a few extra goals with you to discuss should you not be in agreement with the school’s ideas.

Be aware that the short term plan goals should fit a longer term goal that is a shared vision for the child. Often in primary school teachers and/or parents want autism spectrum children to have friends and set this as a goal. However, this misses out a vital pre-step of – having a sense of belonging to the class/school. This is a goal that focuses on the class as much as the individual and usually involves strategies that demonstrate the strengths and skills of your child to their peers. Whereas, a friendship goal usually involves social skills training for JUST your child or a group of AS students, and does not take into account that your child needs to be valued by their peers too.

For students individual education plans can be completely hidden and meaningless, or hidden and a vital part of their education, or a shared process that helps them to understand that they have some control over their journey in life. I would argue that having SMART goals that are reviewed termly is more important to your child that attending a meeting twice a year where there is endless discussion and goal setting that makes little difference to the curriculum content or delivery for them. If the Student on the autism spectrum is present it is an ethical duty to hold the meeting in a manner that is beneficial to the student and not soul destroying. This means ensuring the positives are celebrated and skills needed phrased as ‘next steps’ and not ‘things x can’t do’.

To ensure your child’s plan is as meaningful and useful as possible, ensure that there are not too many goals (after all, as adults if we try to do too many things at once we usually fail at everything instead of achieving in a smaller number of things). Also insist that not only the goal is written down on the plan but also what that goal will look like once it has been achieved, and exactly what strategies are going to be tried and by whom and with what frequency. An example is given below.

Example Individual Education Plan

Short term goal


Specific learning outcome and how we will know it has been achieved


Strategies to implement goal – summary of Curriculum Adaptation, Teaching Strategies, Resources etc.


Who will be responsible


Daily or

weekly dates and




Joe will be able to walk home safely by himself.


Joe will get from school to home

within 10 minutes of leaving school,

without engaging in any risky



Photos, social stories, safe card/passport – clear precise information about safe

behaviour (do not talk to people except the shop staff, cross only at the crossing when allowed by the patrol etc., blow whistle if people are mean or scary)

Adult from school to walk with Joe less of

the way each day (but keeping him in view), parent to do this in reverse.


Mum/Dad/ teacher aide/DP/ ORS teacher


Daily in school and as school



That Joe will be able to

learn 4 square and play this with peers at playtime


Joe will be able to

play and/ or verbally explain how to play 4 square outside.


Joe will develop his ball throwing and

catching skills as a sensory break in work time. Games to be taught explicitly by ORS

teacher with clear rule explanations (can use photos, role modelling) once skills mastered.



teacher, ORS teacher, teacher aide


Daily during fitness

During sensory breaks


That Joe will engage in

reading during silent reading


Joe will be able to turn pages

appropriately, look at pictures and texts in books of his

choosing for 10 mins (silent reading is 10 mins after lunch

every day)


Joe will be provided with a box of books about animals and cars (preferred topics) at a range of levels and types (fiction/non-

fiction). Modelling and verbal prompting to be used to encourage prolonged

engagement with the books. Shared and paired reading with peers to be facilitated by TA who will withdraw when Joe is

engaged and prompt when needed.


Teacher aide


Daily during silent

reading and paired or shared

reading activities


  • This article first appeared in the Altogether Autism Journal Autumn 2014 and updated May 2018
  • Emma Goodall is a university lecturer, educational autism consultant, author of the handbook for parents and teachers; “Understanding and facilitating the achievement of autistic potential”, public speaker and presenter, self-advocate and occasional actress. Emma has Asperger’s.


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