One SEND is a transformation journey that started in late 2018, with the vision to provide the children, young people and families of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council (the “Bi-Borough”) with the number one SEND service in the country.
The SEND sector is experiencing several challenges including increased financial pressure and a growing cohort of pupils requiring Education Health and Care (EHC) Plans, whilst also aiming for earlier identification and interventions for children and young people with SEND. These challenges mean SEND services nationally are having to rethink their delivery models to ensure they can provide outstanding services to children and young people.
The Bi-Borough recognised the need for more efficient processes and better business intelligence to proactively manage performance, plan for the future and deliver the best outcomes for children and young people with SEND. A digital strategy was at the heart of the business case to improve service delivery and replace multiple legacy systems. One SEND project team sought to achieve the following aims:
- automate manual activities to create more time to engage with children and young people and their families;
- transform data into service intelligence to enhance the understanding of the needs of children and young people and better support their needs; and
- improve the interface of the SEND service with other local authority and NHS services.
Following the approval of the business case, a Steering Group was established, chaired by the Assistant Director of SEND. The attention of an executive sponsor for the project was key to the project’s success. The relationship between the Assistant Director and Project Director was trusting and allowed the project to move at the pace necessary for success.
Leading disruptive change at such a scale and pace needed action and quick decision-making, accordingly, the Assistant Director and Project Director had a mantra to enable success: “beg for forgiveness, not for permission!” This wasn’t about rule-breaking, but about stripping back bureaucracy to make impactful and positive change.
The SEND sector is not currently well served by technology. Some systems can solve some of the problems faced by SEND leaders, but there did not seem to be a comprehensive solution. Hence, the approach to the procurement was to allow the technology sector to respond innovatively to our objectives. We invited a number of suppliers to a ‘Supplier Day’ prior to the procurement starting to inform the market of our vision. We also shared a high-level project plan, including milestones and key meeting dates, to ensure that there was no lag between award and mobilisation. This approach to procurement saved everybody time and ensured we received meaningful tenders that spoke to our specific challenges.
The Bi-Borough chose ECLIPSE (OLM Systems Limited) because they approached the challenge flexibly and understood that we were buying a long-term solution that could grow and evolve with us throughout the life of the contract and could adapt as our strategy and statutory requirements change.
The project mobilised quickly with the Bi-Borough and OLM Systems teams working at a similar pace. The combined teams held a project launch meeting immediately after award to agree ways of working, roles and responsibilities and finalise the project plan. The programme was built on the ethos of truth, trust and teamwork. Vik Verma, One SEND Project Director stated “We were delighted that OLM lived up to their tender document and worked collaboratively with us. OLM took time to ensure the partnership was strong. Where challenges arose, we all worked together as a collective team to find solutions."
The foundations of the project were built by understanding the current capabilities of the SEND service and the conditions for change by engaging with every individual within the service through workshops and focus groups. This vital work informed the baseline position and defined the scope and strategy for the transformation. In addition, the Project Director recognised that there had to be an investment in IT technical knowledge to inform the transformation, in equal proportion to change management expertise; quite often digital transformations focus only on the former. Alongside this, the Project Team was able to draw on the expertise of staff from the service who were able to represent different points of view and fully understood the unwritten ways of working that informed the transformation of the culture.
The Culture and Change Lead spent time consulting and engaging with both the SEND Service and other internal departments to communicate the benefits of the business case and set out the change roadmap. This included working with staff to understand their hopes and fears through focus groups and pulse surveys.
Deborah Brooks, One SEND Culture and Change Lead explains “This insight in to how the service was feeling about the impending change ensured the implementation was targeted and project communications responded to the needs of the service. Working openly and transparently with the service built the Project Team’s reputation and enabled them to have more meaningful and insightful conversations with staff. The brand and vision for the transformation energised the service: one service across two boroughs, using one system, with a vision to be the number one SEND service in the country.”
Process optimisation and automation
The SEND service signed up to a series of digital design principles to inform the “to-be” processes. These incorporated the streamlining of lengthy manual processes and the automation of activities that were time intensive and routine. The aim was to allow the service to focus more on work that has a meaningful impact on children and young people and maintain full compliance with the SEND Code of Practice. In designing the new processes time was invested to understand the “as-is” through the perspectives of the different users and challenge the legacy ways of working. These were tough conversations, challenging the conventional ways “things have been done around here” was hard. The Project Team was trusted by the service to deliver and as a result co-designing the future model allowed the opportunity for staff to apply their experience and influence the design.
In the past, the SEND service relied on manual data management and reporting which is highly resource-intensive. By moving to a next-generation case management system with our software provider OLM Systems, the SEND service can 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 vision is to make data available on-demand and proactively pushing reports out to staff at all levels to support them in strategic planning. These data points combined with national data will be used to create intelligent forecasting and business intelligence using Microsoft Power BI. This will enable the SEND leadership team to gain a deeper understanding of the cohort and inform place planning investments, resource planning and performance monitoring.
This approach is breaking new ground in SEND, data will not only be made available to decision-makers within the local authorities, but it will also offer insight to our SEN Coordinators out in schools, NHS partners and health practitioners to inform their own strategies to respond to the environmental challenges.
- The project was completed one month ahead of schedule
- 10,000 hours will be saved over the course of a year
- Since the implementation of ECLIPSE, 100% of EHC plans have been completed on time
Through the transformations that have been delivered, the project will achieve time savings of over 10,000 hours per year across the service, which will be reinvested to add value to activities that have a meaningful impact on children and young people. These savings include areas such as digitising management decisions through the system, the production of data and performance metrics and reductions in administration efforts.
Assistant director of SEND Julie Ely said “The introduction of ECLIPSE has further enabled joined-up working and freed up time to focus on our children and young people. Introducing ECLIPSE 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”.
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