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Technology, social services and SEND provision – empowering exceptional service delivery

Monday 30 March 2020 Data Insight & AnalyticsEducation

Marc Radley's picture
By Marc Radley

It is easy to understand the view that putting all the educational, social and emotional support requirements of children into one check out process should be the focus of a SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) technology solution. The efficacy of this, however, should be questioned.

The SEND journey involves bringing together our burgeoning understanding of effective responses to overlapping complex needs in a specific local service context. So many children and young people cross professional service boundaries where SEND support is required. It is, therefore, paramount that disparate services are enabled to collaborate and draw on and challenge one another’s thinking to build learning and effective practice.

As things stand, individuals understand aspects of SEND and parts of a service response, but this can be insufficient to build a whole system response. A child’s presenting problems can require sound professional judgement about hidden and buried issues but these skills are in short supply. This is where we can see the pros and cons of building a rational data process infrastructure at this time to address the service problem – if you build a process solution in silos, this can shunt problems, undermine relevant perspectives, block new understandings and practice learnings that make a difference.

You can make the siloed processes more joined up and efficient and in the short term less costly, but this can result in high service costs over the longer term where the whole system is not geared to manage demand. Multi-agency collaboration and learning will be compromised and the ability to create insight and innovative responses to need in the locality will be hampered.

A backdrop to the development and understanding of SEND provisions has been the challenge and inconsistencies of cuts to public services. These have created uneven systems, recruitment and morale difficulties through the teams in this area. How can this be reconciled? How can the practitioner systems and services build capability and be aligned?

As we can see in the Richmond case (about which you can read more here), the leaders can be a long way from the coal face, often not being in a position to understand or realise the issues until the problems are identified by a case review. In this case, it wasn’t until complaints were brought against the council. The investigation revealed the points of failure from the record keeping of parents – only then could we fully comprehend what had happened in an individual case. This serves to highlight the lack of consistency and coherence that can exist in current process and practice.

This is an issue which goes beyond SEND, too. We are seeing similar issues of cooperation and coherence in situations concerning County Lines operations and efforts to thwart them. A collective multi-agency approach is crucial to these efforts, but as we are seeing, young people who are brought to the attention of the authorities are being passed from one agency to another, often with minimal interaction between those agencies.

Some of the software which these agencies are using has also conditioned practitioners to do a job, rather than their job. To a certain extent, some points of interaction and some points of the service have become box ticking exercises. An unintended consequence is that the systems do not promote consistent and reliable professionalism as fragments of information with different provenance are passed around.

It is imperative, in building effective SEND provision, that practitioners and managers have well formed, clear and relevant information at the right level on each child in the context of their developmental journey. Providing each decision-making group with timely information alongside feedback about choices and outcomes helps them greatly in their very challenging job.

Poor decisions will be made under pressure where factors precipitate risk – knowledgeable practitioners having access to reliable up-to-the-minute information relieves the pressure and helps to correct or eliminate mistakes.

Technology, systems and software are not, however, a silver bullet to the issues we have seen with Richmond. The organisation system is vulnerable to human and systemic error and is difficult to maintain good decision making for complex needs at the right organisational level.

We can collate data in systems, however, we rely on professionals to create information and turn this into knowledge to take appropriate action across multiple agencies and professional groups. This is achieved where parents/carers and professionals interact with each other, create and access information in quality sources, but this can only be achieved with a common vision of what that looks like.

It is evident at the moment that parent/carers and practitioners involved in disparate services do not have un-refracted information relevant to supporting the journeys for many children.

There are 1,318,300 SEND children in education in the UK and the identified cohort is rising year on year. That represents 14.9% of all children in the UK. Creating solutions across the whole system for this significant cohort of children is vital, and joining the practice learning, information and knowledge dots is the only way that we can achieve this.

It is the people delivering services, empowered, not governed, by technology who can improve outcomes for special educational needs and disabilities children.

Technology, social services and SEND provision – empowering exceptional service delivery