Education is one of the key touchpoints with local authorities for many families. Enabling choice in line with a potentially ever-changing admissions policy is a key focus for authorities, whereas the selection of the "best" and most appropriate school for their child is one of the most emotive topics parents face. Moreover, each local authority is responsible for its own admissions policy, the parameters of choice available to parents and the criteria by which admissions decisions will be made. It all makes for a potential minefield which often results in legal cases where parents appeal the decisions taken.
So, how can local authorities navigate this process with one agile software solution?
Dan Wilkins, Synergy Product Manager at Servelec Synergy, explains how the team has been working with local government since 2002 to develop and deliver a dynamic admissions system centred on the needs of local authorities and focused on assisting families through this process.
How is Servelec Synergy's Admissions System leading the field in supporting local authority customers?
At Servelec Synergy, we have developed a strong understanding of the challenges faced by local authority customers over a number of years. Our admissions module has been used to place almost seven million children in schools since the product was launched and during this time we've developed the product in accordance with the requirements of our local authority customers. We have adapted it to fit the needs of the changes in legislation and best practice that have come to the fore during that time. Our system is a market leader in its field, developed with industry specialists and also with parents in mind.
The Synergy Admissions System has been available in the market place for 15 years. How has the product been adapted to meet the needs of the changing landscape?
Over the past 15 years, Synergy has developed a market-leading admissions solution that is dynamic and adaptable to the requirements of each local authority and their admissions policy. The solution is scalable to meet the needs of each council and is flexible enough to deal with the requirements as they constantly adapt through consultation with parents.
We understand the processes local authorities have to go through to consult on any changes to their admissions policy. We then work with our customers to ensure that the solution continues to be flexible to meet their needs. Each local authority is different, supporting different geography, a broad socio-economic mix and disparate population criteria. As such, every implementation of our solution is configured to each customer's needs. That is not to say that we go back to the drawing board with each new customer - we learn from each individual environment in which we implement the system and constantly adapt our solution to make sure it continues to offer the most appropriate solution for our customers and their customers.
Each new customer benefits from these lessons learned, both from the system design and the vast knowledge of our implementation team. Likewise, existing customers benefit from continuous investment in the solution, supported by Servelec Synergy to review and adapt working processes as required.
How has the product been developed with families in mind?
Each year, families with children coming up to primary and secondary school age are given the opportunity to apply for the schools they would like their child (or children) to attend. Historically, this was a paper-based process where local authorities would issue application forms and process them internally within the system.
Being one of the first services in local government to lead the trend towards self-service, we developed the Parent Portal module, working with the Department for Education and local authorities. This enables each parent/carer to be issued with secure login credentials (which they request themselves) through which they make their choices online. This means the whole process can be managed online, including any appeals of admissions decisions.
Over time this has grown with the Parent Portal supporting many more services than just admissions, including free school meals, free early education funding applications for two-year-olds, SEN EHCP participation, and most recently entrance test registrations. The Parent Portal is used across any device, enabling parents to apply from their smartphones, tablets and laptops/desktops.
Appeals is often a sensitive area for local authorities to navigate. How is this handled through the Synergy Admissions System?
The ability for parents to appeal a decision around their child's placement is a potentially contentious part of the process. The Synergy Admissions System includes facilities that streamline the appeals process for all involved. Parents can lodge their appeal online via the Parent Portal, and similarly, local authorities have access to a number of tools to help them determine whether an appeal is warranted and make any necessary change to the decision. These tools include a geographic information system (GIS) to determine locality of school, distance to travel and safest walking route. It also features built-in auditing on every single change made to the application to ensure the local authority is clear on the exact journey of the application through the system, which is crucial in the appeal process.
The local authority can be safe in the knowledge, and demonstrate, that the system has processed all applications according to the rules defined by their local admissions policy.
Troubled families are often already known to social care departments within the broader local authority. How does the Synergy Admissions System feed into providing better care for children?
The full Synergy solution includes many specific modules designed for the relevant local authority service teams, including early intervention teams. These modules combine to provide a richer picture of a child/family to enable the most effective targeted provision from the local authority. Information on children with special educational needs or those known to be potentially at risk in some way is shared across the Synergy product suite and also shared with the broader Servelec case management solution, Mosaic, to deliver the bigger picture to all those involved in delivering better care for families and individuals. Providing the admissions team with the visibility of this "richer picture", enables them to ensure the system recognises criteria that enable the child (or children) to gain the best place available to support them.
For any local authorities wishing to enhance the education journey for themselves and their families, contact Servelec Synergy to find out why we're the most tried and trusted provider of a modern and agile Admissions System that can adapt to your needs.
Tel: 0844 811 5081