Gareth Copeland: 3.5 minute read

883 reasons why technology can help to transform SEN

In a recent BBC investigation via Freedom of Information requests, it has been discovered that around 40% of the plans requested have taken longer than they should. 

Updated insights are available here.


Original text

With some children in England with special education needs having waited more than 1,000 days for an education, health and care plan (EHCP). That is 883 days over the expected 20 week timescale. It portrays a huge failure in the system and that change is urgently required.

Where are these delays coming from?

Across the board frontline services have seen increases in demand. Unprecedented levels of strain now sit at the heart of all departments within all services associated with the creation of an EHCP, from the NHS to local authorities, social care and education. These services need to deliver more from less, with budget cuts placing additional strain on departments that are ready to burst. No service has been spared from these ongoing cuts and increases in demand. For education, it has seen additional demand for school places through population growth, resulting in increased class sizes. This increase in population has brought with it a range of learning difficulties that need to be assessed.

61 of the local authorities that responded said that between them they had received a 70% increase in requests for a needs assessment over a four year period. In 2014-15, 16,696 requests were received and in 2017-18, 28,507 applications were received. Such an increase places great strain on the resources at hand.

Poor administration and inadequate gathering of evidence are frequent complaints around the SEN process. You cannot cut corners in terms of needs assessment as a child’s long-term health and wellbeing is at stake.

In reality many SEND teams are using systems first implemented 20 years ago to administer this statutory process, and rely on spreadsheets to plug the gaps and monitor important timescales and deadlines. They are using document templates manually populated for each and every case, then printed off to be stored with thousands of other hard copies in floor to ceiling filing cabinets. Communication with third parties is conducted by email, or via expensive portals bolted onto their antiquated back office systems.

So what could be done?

What can be done? User-based technology

You can look for efficiencies in the system to speed up and support effective collaboration through high quality plans. Whether that comes from the process or the recording and approval. Re-inventing the process is not only possible it is advisable as by doing so you can take advantage of current methodologies and technology.

Over the past ten years technology has changed and morphed into a friend that we take everywhere we go. No longer are we limited to writing emails at home via a connection that wouldn’t sound out of place inside the latest Star Wars film. We can take our digital lives with us and the same can be said for the workplace. If we need to travel to see clients then we should be able to take our emails and systems with us.

This can free up time and keep the professional who is off to see these families free and on the road. They do not need to head back to the office to update the notes, they can do so from their phone or tablet and this is done directly into the back office system. You do not need an additional piece of technology, which cuts out the need for time consuming data matching processes. Even if these simple additions to the working week save less than five hours per week, per consultant, then we can celebrate. Why? Across a team of say 30 professionals, this would save 150 hours per week or the equivalent to nearly four full time members of staff. This time could then be re-allocated to other priorities, to stem the tide and maintain person-centred care.

What can be done? Working collaboratively          

In addition to creating efficiency through effective technology, disparate agencies need to work together to ensure that children are supported. SEND teams need to enable similar controls to ensure that all the agencies involved in the creation of an education, health and care plan (EHCP) have access to the information that they need.  The professionals need to know the timescales they should be working to, with reminders to ensure that the work’s importance is not forgotten.    

OLM’s ECLIPSE Case Management system can provide this information. Controlled multi agency access is an inherent principle of ECLIPSE, with controlled access to data being fundamental. The profile of the user or teams that they are a member of defines the functionality that they have available and the cases they can access. This clear approach ensures all partner agencies can share securely, and have access to high-quality data that will improve assessments and decision making across their services.

In addition to providing secure multi-agency access as standard, ECLIPSE also provides integrated workflow capability. The worklist capabilities of ECLIPSE mean that a user is quickly and easily guided through any business process by a series of prompts at individual task level. These tasks can be locally configured to ensure they accurately reflect the local processes and statutory requirements. The RAG (Red, Amber, Green) rating on individual tasks give workers and managers an instant understanding of the priority of work they have outstanding on every case. Prompts via popups or emails are automatically sent to users to inform them of important events.

The restrictions behind the expedient production of education, health and care plans can be alleviated through increased efficiencies and multi-agency working. Technology can assist with the enabling of change here and ECLIPSE Case Management can provide that change.

At OLM we are delighted to be having conversations with several local authorities about how the ECLIPSE Case Management platform can help transform their SEND service. We believe that 2019 will see more services embracing ECLIPSE and the advantages that such a sophisticated, modern platform can deliver.