Somerset County Council has recently reviewed Somerset’s Local Offer. We held two virtual events on Wednesday 14 July 2021 to share what we have found so far. It also provided a fantastic opportunity for parent carers to tell us about their experience of using the website and any suggestions they had to make it better.

Our recent review of Somerset’s Local Offer aimed to:

  • understand how people access or share information around SEND
  • Identify what resources people use and the process they go through
  • Learn how and if they use Somerset’s Local Offer
  • Assess the usability of Somerset’s Local Offer

The review involved interviews with professionals who have a role sharing information with parent carers; Contact Centre Advisor, Parent and Family Support Advisor (PFSA) and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), and other professionals involved in the Local Offer. Views were gathered from young people with SEND through a workshop with The Unstoppables, and parent carers shared their views through interviews. Local Offer user testing was also run with parent carers and SCC Digital Volunteers completing information finding challenges on the current Local Offer.

Full findings of the review are in our Local Offer Research Outcomes. The summary of key themes includes:

  • Too much information available – If you are new to SEND, there is a wealth of information – it is hard to navigate and understand what is important and relevant. Particularly what is important for your child right now.
  • Lack of awareness – Both professionals and parents do not know about the Local Offer. They describe a need for a one stop shop with all the information about local services in one place but aren’t aware of the Local Offer. Or they may have used it before changes had been made and so have a negative perception of it.
  • Transparency of progress – Most common enquiries are about an update on an application. It is an emotional journey and parents need to get updates to manage their expectations. There is no guidebook to what needs to be done at what point and this is something that parents expressed to be helpful. There is no transparency over what options there are at different stages, and this causes parents frustration.
  • Accessibility – Finding information through the current Local Offer site is difficult. It is difficult to navigate often linking to external links. Parents at the start of their diagnosis do not know where to find information. There is a feeling that information isn’t where it is supposed to be and there seems to be too many steps in the information finding process.

Our next steps include:

  • Developing a detailed plan for improving the site
    • Making content clear and concise
    • Improving signposting and presentation of reliable sources
    • Developing visuals and pathways
    • Improving the search and filtering function
  • User Testing – via Digital Customer Volunteers and SPCF reps
  • Content audit – October
  • Communications Campaign – Autumn

So, we asked you what would make it easier for you to understand what sources of information are best? And how can we reduce the steps it takes to find the relevant information needed? You told us most parents are going to the Local Offer site when they are at crisis point, and so information with too much detail is hard to absorb. Need to have the important points highlighted – what and where next. Visuals help and there needs to be a list of contacts – an easy way to go directly to a page with phone numbers when in crisis.

Pages need to be grouped into a portfolio of support aligned to each condition, this will make it relevant. Pages can be grouped by ‘problem’ if people don’t have a diagnosis yet, for example struggling with sleep. It could be a series of questions to guide you through the area of life or need to identify useful resources or places for support. Also, we need to link the local services to the information pages. You wouldn’t expect the Local Offer to show national information as people have already found that via Google.

We asked how can we help raise awareness of the Local Offer? You said we need greater publicity to know it is there. At the point where parents seek support from professionals, they need to be guided to the Local Offer by the professional for example GP referral, schools, SENDIAS, activity days, social workers. Also, we need to raise awareness of the Local Offer as a tool to publicise local support groups and vice versa – this will encourage support groups to publicise the Local Offer.

Just because the listening events have happened it doesn’t mean you have missed your chance to share your views with us. We are always glad to hear your feedback to improve the Local Offer and are constantly updating site content in response. Every page has at the bottom a ‘Feedback – was this helpful?’ link where you can anonymously make suggestions to let us know is it not clear, not up to date or correct, or not working? Tell us how can we make it better? These may go to the Local Offer Steering Group for discussion and further refinement.