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Utilising technology to improve SEND outcomes for children

Tuesday 28 January 2020 Education

By Miles Reucroft

A recent case concerning Richmond council and Achieving for Children, the organisation which runs its children’s services, highlights the importance of the role that technology now plays in enacting the best outcomes for children. Three children were identified in a report by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman as having missed out on their education because of failings in the processes at Richmond and Achieving for Children.

You can read the Ombudsman’s report here. It highlights fundamental flaws in the process upon which SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) children receive the services to which they are entitled by law.

When the Ombudsman’s investigators visited the council to inspect case files, they found documents often named or filed incorrectly.

Additionally, the investigation found the council had three separate IT systems for managing information, one of which could only be accessed by a single member of staff. And in one of the cases, the Ombudsman’s investigation was only able to discover what had happened because the family had kept thorough records.

Investigation into complaints against London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (reference numbers: 18 001 501, 18 003 307 and 18 013 211)
Report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman - 18 October 2019

It is clear that the setup to determine and administer support for SEND children in Richmond is not able to appropriately and effectively deliver the support packages some of these children need. The multitude of issues covers disparate systems, poor administration and concentration of knowledge into a single member of staff. Effective management of information via technology and redesign of operations would go a long way to alleviating the issues outlined by the Ombudsman.

Getting the technology right, however, is only part of the puzzle and this is not an issue isolated to Richmond. IT systems need to support and empower councils in their provisions for the children under their purview. Siloed statutory requirements, limited policy guidance and resourcing do not help councils in achieving a timely and coherent response to children’s educational needs.

As the Richmond case highlights, too, compiling and interpreting relevant historical data is incredibly challenging – aligning multiple data structures to provide a holistic view of a child or young person is, in some cases, impossible.

Even where the files exist, as we can see here, they are still at the mercy of human error when it comes to labelling, storing and indexing.

So, councils are facing a number of issues in making suitable provisions for children and this is failing SEND children on a national level. This further feeds into recent findings from the London Innovation & Improvement Alliance (LIIA) that:

  • The mental health needs of children are not being sufficiently supported
  • Identification of SEND is weak
  • Outcomes for children with SEND are often poor by the age of 16

To address these underlying issues, councils need to do more work on aligning their service, practice and technology solutions to better fit the uncertainty regarding demand for the identification and support of children with SEND needs. There are, currently, some major flaws in these processes which the Richmond case serves to highlight.

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How can technology help councils to support children with special educational needs in identification and delivery of suitable provision?

Utilising technology to improve SEND outcomes for children