Sheffield City Council’s Vocational Skills Project (VSP)

Sheffield City Council and Servelec Youth Services (formerly C:Vision) have been working together to develop a suitable solution for their Vocational Skills Project.

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The Lifelong Learning Skills and Communities team (LLSC), part of the 14-19 team within Sheffield City Council (SCC), delivers the Vocational Skills Project. This is a managed service to schools, providing training for students who wish to pursue a vocational qualification with a Work Based Learning Provider (WBLP), or who need an alternative curriculum timetable. This enables Young People to leave their placement with a nationally recognised qualification, often alongside their GCSEs.

The 14-19 team administer all aspects of the programme, including:

  • commissioning and contracting WBLPs to provide training;
  • quality assuring WBLPs;
  • assessing school demand for vocational training courses and ensuring commissioned WBLPs are in a position to provide this training;
  • billing schools for placements;
  • monitoring student enrolments and placements;
  • capturing the day-to-day attendance information at the WBLPs and reporting back to schools; and
  • reporting on students’ performance at placements.

The programme currently delivers successful work based learning to around 3000 students attending 2500 offsite training days per week.

"The 14-19 team has a vision to provide a single application for schools, WBLPs, and SCC to apply for courses; approve applications; enrol students; manage attendance; and track and review the student’s progress through a number of different placements."

The ideal system would integrate with schools’ local Management Information System (MIS) and the local authorities’ education management system. Stakeholders need to be able to securely and efficiently carry out their part of the day-to-day attendance monitoring; give on demand access to an assured view of the student’s attainment throughout their placement; and remove the need for workarounds to achieve the basic business processes that will allow the programme to operate more efficiently.

The Challenge

The LLSC team’s previous solution was not purpose-built. Because of this, the team encountered several problems.

Part of the system was prone to collapse, which made it unreliable for practitioners to use on a daily basis. In addition to this, not all of the required information could be recorded, so multiple spreadsheets were used alongside the existing solution. In particular, qualifications could not be recorded, which brought about a level of disorganisation. Reporting also became more difficult if a young person was undertaking multiple placements as there was no efficient way to produce a report showing this.

The team needed the system to be able to match up the availability of a young person, a provider, and a school. They also needed to be able to identify the number of placements available at any one time, from each provider. They then needed to be able to report on and manage the costs of each placement. There was no direct feed of young person data from their existing system into their already existing Core+ modules, so the team had to rely on spreadsheets instead.

These repeated gaps in system functionality led to issues with pupil safeguarding, lack of attainment tracking, damaged data quality, and a blemished reputation due to the poor perceptions of the system by schools and WBLPs.

Servelec Youth Services' Solution

Sheffield City Council went out to tender to find a suitable replacement, however, this exercise proved unsuccessful. Through internal contacts at the council, Servelec Youth Services were recommended.

Servelec Youth Services have been working with Sheffield City Council for a number of years, and we have always shared a positive relationship. Acknowledging this relationship was what began our new partnership project.

Servelec Youth Services provided the team at Sheffield with a demonstration of our Core+ Work Experience Solution, where the 14-19 team identified that our solution met approximately 70% of the project requirements.

The project was on a tight timescale, data needed to be migrated, and some development work was needed to close the gap between what was already available and what was needed. The proposed development work was specifically around the referrals process, and the portal (accessed by schools and providers).

Servelec Youth Services held workshops with the team to gather requirements and to configure the system in the correct way.

It was very important that the schools and providers had a strong link, and could access all of the necessary information. They needed to be able to deal effectively with the referral process. This entailed being able to choose a provider based on a young person’s skills, then matching up the availability of all the essential partners (young person, school and provider).

The new system went live in January 2013. There were inevitably a few teething problems, that were largely due to staff input issues, but Servelec Youth Services recognised any complications as soon as possible.

There were several inconsistencies between the providers not always updating attendance details, especially if the young person moved around between different programmes but this was not inherently a problem with the system.

"The new system allowed the LLSC team to keep all of the data they already had on their system, relating to providers and Young People, whilst being able to include lots of other data to make their lives easier."

The solution also provided a much better link for the finance team. It enabled the 14-19 team to send a report to the finance team, detailing which schools to charge and which providers to pay. This information was selected from the system and so did not need re-inputting. This development also provided a much better tracking system to identify which providers were most popular.

Perhaps most importantly, end users were happy with the new solution. They were able to access all of the information together without having to perform multiple searches across multiple databases.

Project Review

Although the new project was a success, a few issues arose in the early stages of the launch.  Some due to the restructuring of the LLSC team, with various key people leaving the council, and some due to the readiness of the team regarding school term times.

The system successfully went live; however, there were some issues with the portal. Some of these were due to inputting errors, in particular, when a young person moved on and off programmes; the providers were not always updating the attendance details. The closing of an Episode also became an issue; however, any inconsistencies were rectified straightaway.

There were also some issues with the timing of the training, especially Crystal. The service believes this was perhaps taken too early and reports then needed to be re-written due to changes to the system. With hindsight, training would have been more suitable after the system had been in use for a couple of weeks. However, Servelec Youth Services assisted in amending any reports immediately.

Throughout the development stages of the project both Sheffield and Servelec Youth Services had to put a lot more time into the project because of end user issues, but these were eventually resolved to satisfy both the Sheffield team and the end users.

Next steps

Phase two of the project will encompass several new developments within the Servelec Youth Services solution. In particular, the 14-19 team are very interested in developing letter templates to save practitioners valuable time. These templates would populate with information already held on the young person’s record.

In addition to this, the extended development work would ideally include further development of the portal. The team require more information regarding a young person to be available in the one place. Not only would this be a valuable time saving tool, but would also ensure that the correct information is being viewed by the correct people.

Incident forms, which play a vital part in the young person’s record, are not currently part of the Core+ system. This is something that Sheffield are interested in developing. Currently these are completed and shared via email between schools and providers, but it would be more practical to have this included in the Core+ system and to be able to share them via the portal.

Multiple databases still have to be used to access qualifications, points and certificates for each young person. Sheffield are currently using their own system to access this information, however Servelec Youth Services will be looking to develop this part of the system further to ensure all information is held within the secure system.