coproduction and parent participation
The Online Local Offer
In 2019 we started a long term piece of work with Bolton Council to improve the online Local Offer. Since 2014, there has been a statutory requirement for all local areas to publish a “Local Offer” as part of the SEND Reforms.
The original Local Offer that was published for Bolton has long needed updating, and starting this project was very exciting!
What is a Local Offer?
The SEND Code of Practice 2014 tells us this about the Local Offer:
Local authorities must publish a Local Offer, setting out in one place information about provision they expect to be available across education, health and social care for children and young people in their area who have SEN or are disabled, including those who do not have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.
In Bolton, the Local Offer was launched in 2014 and, like many areas, over time it didn’t seem to be the tool that it had been hoped it would be. As the Parent Carer Forum, the content of the Local Offer was an ongoing issue that we raised at a strategic level.
In 2018 plans started to emerge, not just to improve the Local Offer, but to completely rebuild a brand new site which is fit for pupose for our local area.
Bolton Parent Carers, Families Information Service and Bolton Council started to formally gather the views of parents, carers and young people about what they would want from the Local Offer.
They told us that they wanted…
… it to be easy to navigate, the current one was awkward and it was easy to end up in a completely different part of the council website.
… separate information for Post-16
… it to be colourful, and attractive
… professionals to know what is needed to be included on the Local Offer
… more information on Autism
… more information on activities in the local area, more than just a contact number and website
… information on schools locally and also out of borough
… ratings for local activities
What became clear from some of the initial engagement sessions was that the things that parents want to see on the local offer weren’t fully aligned with the statutory requirements.
It was also very hard to start from a blank page when considering what a local offer would look like and what it would contain.
A decision was made to set up a small working group to build ‘Phase One’ of the brand new Local Offer site. The aim of this was to then use Phase One to work with parents, carers, children and young people to go on to add to, edit, improve further phases.
Aims for Phase 1
A Local Offer task group was formed comprised of staff from communications at the council, Families Information Service, Parent Carer Forum and the IT staff that would be building the new site.
- To set up a ‘galaxy’ site, which is independent of the council website, with it’s own identity, but that is still fully managed by Bolton Council.
- Create an identity for the Local Offer so it can have it’s own branding.
- Populate the site with a minimum amount of information that would help us to understand how the site navigates and looks.
- Develop a working plan for the content and who is best placed to write and authrorise the content.
- Start to populate the site with statutory required information.
Best laid plans…
The development of the brand new site was reliant on the support from the Comms and IT teams from the council. When we went into Covid lockdown in March 2020, it was understandable that their priorities had to be placed elsewhere for a while.
Back to work
In the summer of 2021we were able to restart the project. The galaxy site was built and content started to be populated with the aim to launch the new Local Offer in early 2022. We coproduced initial promotional materials as the site started to take shape. It has been keen for the forum that the Local Offer has a recognisable ‘identity’ and we were thrilled with the design of logo that emerged via coproduction.
BPC has been insistent throughout the project that the content of the Local Offer will be crucial to it being a useful resource for local families. Through our insistence that time be spent on writing accurate, up-to-date content, by a dedicated person, we contributed to a paper to request additional resources for the project. This lead to the decision to allocate a portion of the Deputy Head of SEND’s time to working with Kelly Burke from the council to focus on content writing. As a forum we have worked closely to get the site populated with good quality information.
The Local Offer had a soft launch in 2022, followed by promotion across Bolton supported by the forum.
Initial feedback gathered by the forum during 2023 was very positive. Parents and carers thought the design and feel of the site was a huge improvement and the initial content showed promise.
Phase Two – 2023
With Phase One complete, it is time to work closely with parents and carers to develop the local offer futher.
Our aims from September 2023 are:
- to ensure we have the content that parents and carers need
- that parents and carers tell us that the language of site is right
- to gather feedback on the accessibility of the site
- to include video options on the site coproduced with parents and carers
How has parent particpation made a difference in the project?
The Local Offer is a resource for families; and therefore without parent carer voice at the heart of the development, it won’t be a successful project. This was evident in most 2014 local offers that were published.
In Bolton, parent carer voice and feedback has been listened to and acted upon. As the Local Offer is being continually developed, this is an ongoing two-way communication.
Examples of immediate action taken based on parent carer feedback includes, adding a detailed page about autism, making the links to special school and independents clearer and adding some very useful external links which parents felt others should know about.