Councils are supporting a growing number of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), with many overspending their allocated budgets to do so.
The LGA is helping councils manage demand for these and other services by supporting projects that use insights from behavioural science – the study of how we respond and react to our surroundings and interventions (see panel, right).
Last year, Warrington Borough Council successfully applied for support from the LGA’s Behavioural Insights Programme for a project looking at its SEND services, in the face of rising demand and significant pressures on its high needs budget.
The council recorded a 66 per cent increase in pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) between 2014 and 2018, up from a relatively stable 969 to 1,610. There would have been 203 fewer pupils with EHCPs if it had matched the national average for pupils with EHCPs (2.8 per cent, compared with 3.5 per cent in Warrington).
The behavioural insights project looked at the work of the council’s EHCP Panel. It uncovered a wide range of issues including inconsistent paperwork and evidence; a lack of engagement and input from partners about how to meet the needs of the child and their family; and a varying approach to applying thresholds for support, which was worsened by parents threatening to go to tribunal, and schools claiming they would be unable to support the child without additional resources.
Following meetings with key partners, a range of interventions were agreed. These included: awareness-raising sessions about the thresholds for assessments and EHCPs; the use of white boards in meetings to display information about each child, to help improve decision making; a commitment from key partners to attend the EHCP panel – they were further encouraged to attend meetings by personal email invitations and text reminders; a new form to standardise the information presented at meetings; and a triage system to identify inappropriate or incomplete submissions.
As a result, it is expected that Warrington will prevent £585,390 of additional spend and save £145,000 over 12 months.
Cllr Matt Smith, Warrington’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Officers have introduced interventions to improve process and practice that are delivering better outcomes for users of our services as well as delivering direct cost savings.
“We are planning to continue the work in other areas of our children’s services.”
What are behavioural insights?
Behavioural insights have been used across public services to generate low- cost interventions to manage demand for services, improve outcomes and decrease costs.
They use behavioural science – the study of how people react and respond to their environment and stimuli – to help develop interventions that encourage people to make better choices for themselves and society.
For example, many councils have improved financial outcomes by changing the way they write their council tax letters. Highlighting that the substantial majority of local residents pay their council tax on time makes individuals more likely to change their behaviour and pay on time via direct debit.
The latest phase of the LGA’s Behavioural Insights Programme, part of its sector-led improvement offer, is offering £20,000 per project towards the cost of up to eight new council-led projects focusing on managing demand for overstretched local services.
Successful projects will commission a behavioural insights supplier to design, deliver and evaluate an evidence-based behavioural insights trial.
Applications are open until 5pm on 1 November.
Please visit www.local.gov.uk/lga-behavioural-insights-2019 for the application form and further information.