This case study outlines how Newham developed an external web application, powered by the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN), which has enabled the school admissions team to work much more efficiently and process applications more quickly, provide more transparency in admissions and base decisions on exactly where pupils live.
Local authorities are responsible for allocating school places to residents. Newham Council has one of the largest number of school pupils in London. Over 5,000 reception pupil applications and around 4,000 year 7 applications are processed every autumn. In addition, the council must allocate school places in response to 7, 000 to 8,000 in-year applications per annum.
The council team had an existing IT system that was used to assist with school place allocations. Part of the criteria for this includes the catchment and parish children live in and the home-to-school distance (shortest walking distance or straight line).
The process was inefficient. It required substantial input from senior level staff, due to the potential for error in the system. Errors would be very damaging to the council, both from a financial and also reputation perspective. In addition, the system was very cumbersome and did little to speed up what was a time consuming, complex and stressful task for the admissions team. There were also a large number of costly calls to the council call centre each year from parents who found it hard to understand how places were allocated.
A new process was initiated with several key objectives:
- process school applications more efficiently
- reduce the risk of appeals and judicial reviews
- minimise transaction costs
- deliver a more transparent service for parents
The project delivered an external web application that parents could use to see what catchment and school were nearest to their home. It also allowed them to state a preferred school so that they could see the distance.
A fundamental part of the improved process included using council address data with the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN). This was combined with other data in a GIS available to parents to show accurate catchment and distance information for each pupil and school preference. The same system was used by the school admission team as parents which enhanced transparency and clear communication about the process.
The school admissions team can now work much more efficiently and process applications more quickly. Significantly, the School Locator app has given Newham Council true confidence in the rigour of the school admissions process and reduced risk. It knows that the decisions it makes are all based on accurate location information and the same criteria are applied consistently to all applications.
The greatest benefit is the clarity the solution delivers for residents. Schools and families can now simply visit a website to see exactly which catchment pupils live in, identify their nearest schools and calculate distances. The information they see is exactly the same as that the council sees, so there is complete openness about council decisions.
The fact that parents have more transparency into how decisions are made may lead to a reduction in appeals. Newham Council typically handles over 1,500 school admission appeals a year, at a cost of around £50 each. If the Esri UK School Locator app were to decrease this figure by just 20%, for example, it would save the council £15,000 a year. By reducing the odds of appeals progressing to judicial review, the app could potentially save the council many more tens of thousands of pounds.