Unpicking data and using it to shape development

One of the changes we’ve made to this blog recently is a drive to make it more dynamic, with regular, snappy updates about projects, ideas or anything else related to change and transformation. As I haven’t contributed for, ahem, quite a while, I’ll use that as an excuse for the less-than-snappy post that follows. This actually started out as a report about a specific piece of work, which evolved into a blog post as I thought it was worth sharing. I hope people find it interesting.


We are currently transforming our DCC education and learning, and children and families webpages. I talked a little bit about this in a previous post. We intend to combine the existing information into a single ‘education and children’ website. The primary audience will be parents and carers; however, it also needs to be accessible to young people. As a secondary function it will also include information for professionals and providers where relevant and necessary.

The aim is to create a website that follows the principles of the Government Digital Service (GDS) – ‘build services so good that people prefer to use them’. The ultimate objective is to reduce the number of education and children calls received by the council’s MyDevon Customer Service Centre (CSC).

GDS ‘discovery’ phase

We are following the GDS Service Design Manual phases – discovery, alpha, beta and live.

As part of the discovery phase we have already:

Education and children contact dashboard ©Lucy Knight

  • Researched the needs of our users and the services we currently offer to meet those needs.
  • Looked at Google Analytics data from our current website, and data provided by the CSC.
  • Translated this data (with the help of Lucy Knight, DCC Performance & Strategy Project Manager) into a contact dashboard (opposite).
  • created user profiles and spent time mapping user journeys through our current service provision.

From the data provided by the CSC, it became obvious when the busiest peak periods of calls were throughout the year. One such peak is the month of September, when schools and education calls increase significantly, coinciding with the start of the school year.

Call listening exercise

We decided to explore this data further by carrying out a call listening exercise. During September, Tom, Patrick and I spent a morning each at the CSC listening to calls received by front line advisers allocated to ‘schools’ and ‘children and families’. We did this over three weeks, with the first session on 01/09, the second on 09/09 and the third on 15/09.

Call findings

This summary of the call data mainly focuses on the combined calls over the three sessions, in particular calls received about school transport and school admissions – which were the most typical calls by far.

However, it is worth noting that there was a difference in the type of calls received during each week. On 01/09 half of all calls were regarding school transport. As this was just a few days before the term started for most Devon schools this could be explained by parents having a last minute panic about getting their children to school. By the third week on 15/09, this proportion had dropped to around a third of calls received. By contrast, school admission queries were fairly low on 01/09, making up less than a quarter of calls received. However, by the third week this had jumped up to just under half.

Breakdown of call data over the three weeks:

01/09/14Total calls30
School transport15
School admissions7
Children and families2


09/09/14Total calls20
School transport5
School admissions5
School meals3
Children and families1
2gether funding1


15/09/14Total calls38
School transport13
School admissions17
School meals5
Children and families2
2gether funding1


Combined 3 sessionsTotal calls88
School transport33
School admission29
School meals8
Children and families5
2gether funding2


From the combined call data it is clear that the majority – over two thirds – of all calls received were about school transport and school admissions, so this is where we need to focus attention. Calls about school meals were the next highest category, with eight calls. Interestingly, there were only five children and families calls over the three sessions, despite the advisers recently taking on extra calls from the previous ‘children’s social work’ number. The ‘other’ category can be discounted as these were calls about the registration service, which we aren’t looking at as part of this project.

Of the 88 calls in total, 51 were resolved by the CSC adviser handling the call, with no further action required.

School transport

Looking at school transport calls, of 33 in total, 16 were concerned with applying for transport – either the caller hadn’t applied, or they had, but were concerned that they hadn’t received confirmation or the resulting travel pass. A general theme running through most of these calls were that the caller seemed unsure of the application process, such as whether they should have received a reminder at some point or how long the application takes. From this it became obvious that the online application information perhaps isn’t as clear as it should be and could be improved with simplified instructions and definitive timescales. We also need to be clear about how proactive people should be. Some parents seemed to think they were meant to receive a prompt from DCC to remind them to apply.

Seven calls were regarding children with special educational needs, so there needs to be a focus on joining up information between the new education and children pages and the SEND website.

There were six calls enquiring about eligibility for free school transport. Again we need to make eligibility information clear on our website, with links to gov.uk/national information if relevant.

Six calls were about transport for a child in post-16 education. It seems that the process differs for post-16, in terms of who pays for free transport and who manages the process – in most cases it appeared to be the colleges not DCC. We need to make sure this is obvious on our website.

School admissions

Out of 29 school admissions calls, 14 were concerned again with the application process. Our website is clearly falling short as many of the queries could have, or should have, been answered by information available online.

Example queries:

‘Caller wants to check if he needs to apply for transfer from primary to secondary if the schools are linked anyway.’ (This was noted by the adviser to be a common query.)

‘Moving to area and wants to know how to apply to a particular school.’

 ‘Hoping to move to Kingsbridge from elsewhere in Devon and wants to move to local school as soon as possible.’

 ‘Family lives on border of Devon and Cornwall, unsure which authority they should apply through.’

 ‘Wants to move schools and wants to know how long process will take.’

However, the remaining number of school admissions queries would not have easily been answered online. For example, families intending to move to Devon and asking for information about capacity in a particular school, or individual queries concerned with a particular child. In addition there were a few calls from school administrators regarding individual children who either hadn’t turned up for the start of the term, or had turned up but hadn’t been allocated a place.


The call listening exercise was an extremely useful insight into the types of calls received by CSC advisers. The data will help us us to identify key areas on the website to focus on and improve, which in turn should hopefully reduce those calls in future.

Key areas of content we need to focus on:

  • Making sure the school transport application process is explained in plain English, with simple instructions about how to apply.
  • Stating timescales and managing expectations – giving clear information about when an application needs to be completed by, and by what date to expect a response.
  • Explaining exactly how proactive parents/carers should be – for example whether or not they will receive any prompt/reminder.
  • Joining up transport information between the SEND and education and children websites, without duplicating content.
  • Explaining eligibility criteria for free school transport in plain English, with links to relevant national information.
  • Providing clear information about post-16 school transport, especially if there are differences between this and regular school transport – for example who pays for transport if the student is entitled to free travel.
  • Making sure the school admissions online application process (for primary, secondary, post-16 and in-year) is explained in plain English, with simple instructions about how to apply.
  • Stating timescales and managing expectations – giving clear information about when an application needs to be completed by, and by what date to expect a response.
  • Explaining exactly how proactive parents/carers should be – for example whether or not they will receive any prompt/reminder.
  • School meals information, including the application process and eligibility criteria for free school meals, needs to be clear and prominent.

We know that many councils are going through a similar process of transforming services and the way that the public access them. 

It would be really interesting to hear if other teams have followed a similar approach: analysing data; listening to front line calls; creating a contact dashboard. If so please let us know, we’d love to hear your experience.

Sarah Avery

Senior Communications Officer for Devon County Council

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