Transforming the school admissions process
With rising numbers of pupils in its borough, Newham Council needed a better way to ensure that school places are allocated fairly based on home to school distances. The solution it developed with Esri UK, the School Locator app, is saving the council significant processing time while improving full transparency of the process for parents.
Newham Council is the local authority for the London Borough of Newham, serving a population of 310,500.
The council’s school admissions team can work much more efficiently, maintain high quality standards and process larger volumes of applications with the same number of staff
Parents can access the School Locator app online and see the same information used by the council, including catchment areas and the home-to-school distances tie breakers
The improved school admissions process is expected to save the council money by reducing the number of parent query calls to the call centre and minimising potentially costly appeals
While small in size, Newham Council has one of the largest cohorts of pupils in the whole of London. It processes in excess of 5,000 reception applications and around 4,000 year 7 applications every autumn. In addition, it must allocate school places in response to 7-8,000 in-year applications per annum.
The council had an existing IT system that it used to help it allocate school places according to strict over-subscription criteria, including what catchment and parish children live in and the home-to-school distance (shortest walking distance or straight line). However, this system was very cumbersome and did little to speed up what was a timeconsuming, complex and stressful task for the admissions team.
To ensure the quality of its decisions, team leaders used to rigorously check and quadruple check the school allocations. This wasn’t an optimal use of manager time, but the council vehemently wanted to focus on the family and avoid mistakes so every child received the correct school offer. If, for example, home-to-school distances were inaccurately calculated, it could lead to an increase in appeals, substantial administrative and legal costs, damaging negative publicity and a loss of trust in the community.
While council staff found the demands of the admissions process complex, so too did parents and guardians. Many families found it hard to understand how places were allocated, and high volumes of calls were made to the council call centre every year requesting information on home-to-school distances and the precise boundaries of catchments. These telephone enquiries were costly for the council and not necessarily particularly illuminating for parents and guardians.
Esri UK went the extra mile, investing time in really understanding our needs. We had a tight deadline and it seemed like an impossible ask, but, in short, the consultants moved me from a big idea with a skeleton specification to an excellent solution in less than three months
Tracy Jones – Group Manager for Pupil Services, Newham Council
Esri UK worked with Newham Council to design a geographic information system (GIS) to precisely address all these issues. Called the Esri UK School Locator app, this solution integrates with the council’s existing CACI admissions system and rapidly calculates accurate catchment and distance information for each pupil and school preference. The solution also integrates with the council’s Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG), to give it accurate, up-to-date address information.
Not just for internal use, the School Locator app also serves up a public-facing web site, where parents and guardians can see catchment areas, Catholic parishes, closest schools, interactive maps and the all-important home-to-school distances tie-breakers (both shortest walking and straight line), most of which would previously have been impossible for the public to determine without contacting the council by telephone.
“Esri UK went the extra mile, investing time in really understanding our needs,” says Tracy Jones, group manager for pupil services at Newham Council. “We had a tight deadline and it seemed like an impossible ask, but, in short, the consultants moved me from a big idea with a skeleton specification to an excellent solution in less than three months.”
Pupil numbers are steadily rising across Newham, year after year, due to the baby boom and the ongoing regeneration of the borough. Use of Esri UK’s School Locator app will enable us to handle this volume increase, and maintain our high quality standards, with the same number of staff
Tracy Jones – Group Manager for Pupil Services, Newham Council
The introduction of Esri UK’s School Locator app is enabling the school admissions team to work much more efficiently and process applications more quickly. “Pupil numbers are steadily rising in Newham, year after year, due to the baby boom and ongoing regeneration of the borough,” says Jones. “Use of Esri UK’s School Locator app will enable us to handle this volume increase, and maintain our high quality standards, with the same number of staff.”
Significantly, the School Locator app has given Newham Council true confidence in the rigour of its 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. “There is less chance of human error, so less risk of us losing a case under stage one of the appeals process,” says Jones.
The greatest benefit, in Jones’ view, is the clarity the solution delivers for residents. Schools and families can now simply visit a web site to see exactly which catchment pupils live in, identify their nearest schools and calculate distances. The information they see is exactly the same that the council sees, so there is complete openness about council decisions.
The elected mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, is committed to ensuring that the council provides the best possible services for residents and that it is transparent in its decision making process. The development of the School Locator app is one initiative that really supports and delivers on this agenda. It gives residents an online tool that demystifies the school application process, and reduces call centre costs at the same time.
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.