Vik Verma Deborah Brooks 29 January 2020

A strong future for SEND services

How did two non-IT people deliver a successful SEND digital transformation project? Vik Verma, One SEND project director, and Deborah Brooks, change and communications lead at the Bi-Borough of Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, explain:

What is One SEND?

The Bi-Borough SEND Service operates as a shared service between Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. The service works with children, young people and families across the community, of which there are approximately 1,800 with Education, Health and Care plans and 4,000 with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities support.

The One SEND transformation project launched in 2018 with the vision of becoming the number one SEND service in the country; an ambitious target, and one that we are working very hard to achieve.

Who is involved in One SEND?

The foundations of the project were built by understanding the current capabilities of the SEND service, the culture and the conditions for change. We engaged with every individual within the service through workshops and focus groups to inform the scope and strategy for the transformation.

The project has been sponsored by the Bi-Borough assistant director of SEND, Julie Ely. As chair of the steering group, her leadership has enabled the project to move at a strong pace.

As a wider team, we started from the position that this was not an IT project; One SEND is a digital transformation project that looks beyond the system the service uses and more closely at the ways of working and the impact they have on children and young people.

As non-technical professionals leading the project, we have delivered a strong, successful programme; built on the ethos of transparency, trust and teamwork with colleagues across both local authorities, and from our solution provider.

What are the aims of One SEND?

The vision of the project is to increase the efficient use of resources to deliver against statutory requirements by reducing the administrative burden on our staff, in turn releasing more time to focus on engaging with children, young people and their families.

The project also focused on automating business intelligence and reporting to increase our understanding of the SEND cohort. Instead of holding all the information within individual pupil records, one aim is to be able to know more about groups of children and young people and how we can support their needs better. This will help our decision-making and the forecasting of trends to enable earlier intervention.

A further aim has been to improve the interface of the SEND service with the wider SEND community so that we can share our knowledge of cases and target support to children and young people.

All of these improvements are aimed at ensuring that we continue to deliver an outstanding service and have a positive impact on the children and young people we work with.

How and why did the Bi-Borough SEND service undergo digital transformation?

Multiple legacy systems at the time created a number of difficulties, particularly relating to access and efficiency. Data management and reporting was largely manual and time intensive. Every child has a different story and we needed technology to capture that story, but also to inform our strategy at a local authority level.

Our team selected ECLIPSE, a case management system from OLM. For us this is a long-term, flexible solution that will grow and evolve with us throughout the life of the contract and is adaptable as our strategy and national statutory requirements change. It’s a cloud-based, next generation case management system, which enables our SEND service to now record and access over one thousand data points on a child or young person including: case profile, primary need data, financial information, attendance data and progress against outcomes.

The introduction of digital case management has further enabled joined up working and freed up time to focus on our children and young people. It has meant that the progress against timescales is more visible for our staff. The service is also better able to focus on proactive areas like SEND forecasting to inform investment decisions and workforce development to ensure the highest quality support to our communities.

Data will not only be made available to decision makers within the local authorities, it will offer insight to our partners to inform their own strategies to respond to environmental challenges; and this is a huge step forward for the SEND service.

What are the key achievements?

Firstly, the digital transformation was completed a month ahead of schedule, an achievement that is thanks to the dedication and hard work of the One SEND team under the leadership of Julie Ely, assistant director of SEND. The commitment and buy-in from the service has been outstanding, we got the basics right through strong project governance and built trust with our colleagues by engaging with the challenges they face every day.

From the start of the project everyone has played a valuable part in this transformation, having a clear understanding of the benefits and the difference it makes to day-to-day activities. For instance, our teams are now able to work on the same system, anytime and anywhere. What this means is that case officers across the Bi-Borough can record directly to the system while on a school visit or when meeting with a parent.

Overall, the improvements will deliver efficiencies that save an enormous 10,000 hours per year, which is time that is being reinvested in working more closely with children, young people and our partners. Implementation of new processes have already led to improvements in the quality of plans and management practice too.

What is the future for SEND services in the Bi-Borough?

There are distinct challenges within SEND, and we feel One SEND is breaking new ground to deliver change effectively. We don’t profess to have the answers that will work for every local authority, but we are very proud of what we’ve achieved and hope this demonstrates what is possible through digital transformation, and will help shape other local authority strategies.

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