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Impact Education Ltd. has developed a cloud-based platform to optimise Special Education Needs & Disabilities (SEND) management for education professionals, leaders and special education needs coordinators (SENCo). Traditionally, information relating to SEND pupils is decentralised and stored in a variety of ways, often in paper format in binders and kept in various archives with limited accessibility. “SENDit”, Impact Education’s solution, allows all stakeholders involved with the individual student to access and monitor the information remotely, throughout the entire education journey of the student. Better access, processing and interpretation of the data, enables more reliable identification of the pupil’s needs and requirements. This then results in better allocation of funding, student management and follow-up to ensure every pupil’s full aspirations can be met, in line with the UN’s 4th Sustainable Development Goal, which is to ensure quality education is inclusive and equitable.
Around 16% of all pupils in schools in the UK have special educational needs (SEN). Education delivered to SEN students needs to be customised and adapted to their individual requirements. Nevertheless, according to research, SEN identification and provision are interpreted and practised differently among professionals, schools and local governments in different regions. This makes it almost impossible to efficiently monitor pupils across their entire education, but it also leads to incomplete SEN identification, which in turn affects the level of funding that can be requested from the government, resulting in insufficient funds to support the pupil.
To identify what exactly needs to be customised for every individual SEN student, there first must be an assessment. This can occur in a very informal setting, for example, a teacher noticing a student has dyslexia and therefore needs additional support, or it can be quite a complicated process, involving multiple professionals, including doctors and care providers, for example with pupils who are non-verbal because of severe autism. Once the requirements are identified, the needs of SEN students are classified into five different areas of need, according to the UK government’s ‘SEND Code of practice’. The categories are: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; social, emotional and mental health; physical and sensory needs and independence and self-help. This complicated and time-consuming classification operation has to happen for every affected pupil in every single school across various age groups. The information is then used to fill out official government forms, which are the basis to allocate budgets to each school, based on each student's identified special needs.
With SENDit, all this data is now in one place and organised into pupil profiles, rather than in paper folders in filing cabinets. The data is evaluated in a uniform way and leads to curated outputs, which can populate forms, such as the legally required documents needed to obtain government funding. Every stakeholder can now look at the same information and be given login credentials depending on the level of access they require. Using SENDit saves more than 40 hours of work per month in every participating school and allows to better identify all of the special education needs of the involved students. An algorithm allows to track performance and efficiency for each individual student and the output forms can be customised according to local requirements, so they can be submitted to obtain the correct level of funding for each pupil.
Monica Conlon, now the company’s Product Director, was a special education teacher for many years, after which she became a consultant for special education schools. Unsatisfied about the amount of repetitive paperwork and lack of clarity, she reached out to her son Joe, who was at the time working in the Army in a technology role, creating software solutions. Monica’s question to him was whether software could help her convert paper forms into PDF and whether this could be done automatically. After further research into the issue, Joe realised this was not an isolated problem, but recurring in all schools, nationwide. He discovered that funding for SEN students was a very inefficient, multi-billion pound operation, based on paper forms in filing cabinets and emails stored on local computers. He then designed a plan to provide value by implementing a digital transformation, saving both time and money for stakeholders whilst at the same time improving the specialised attention SEN students can receive. As the platform was too niche for general, existing software to be applied to, he partnered with another developer and in 2018 Impact Education was founded specifically to address the problem. “So what we did about it, is create a really obvious solution” says Joe Conlon, CEO of Impact Education, “I think it's a complete no brainer: we created a web app where data and information can be submitted and consulted by all stakeholders.” All this information is about the needs of the student in the five areas of need mentioned earlier, the strengths and aspirations of the student and the planned outcomes, which can then be tracked and monitored against short term targets.
“In the UK alone, 1.5 million students are affected and each student has around 20 stakeholders, including the family, teachers, headteachers, care providers, consultants, etc... throughout their education. The big problem is, that all the data required to manage the operation is kept either on paper or in very simple digital formats such as spreadsheets on shared drives, which means most of the information can't be accessed by the entire stakeholder group”, says Joe Conlon.
Under the existing, archaic system, it is an extremely slow process to follow-up on issues, track the effectiveness of the adapted education programme and monitor outcomes. Mistakes and omissions in identifying SEN have resulted in catastrophic funding deficits at the national government level, rising by as much as 76% year on year. In total, high needs funding by the UK government will reach £9.1bn for 2022/23. Misallocating even just a small percentage of this amount is a serious issue, which a system like SENDit will help overcome.
Today, the platform is in a prototype state, used by over 20 schools in the UK, paying annual license fees to the company. To complete the product market fit, further funding is now required to hire full-time developers and optimise the platform following feedback from the users. There is already interest from US-based firms who are willing to invest in the product to allow development and customisation to get to a certain market readiness for the USA. The product is easily scalable and can be used by education institutions around the world, nevertheless the platform will require some customisation to be used in other countries. Currently, the data is organized and automated in the way that it's curated, but not yet automatically categorised by a machine learning tool. This is on the roadmap for the future. In order to train a machine learning tool, a vast amount of data first needs to be collected and classified.
Research by the company shows that the business can generate an annual recurring revenue of £100m after 5 years, based on a 5% market penetration.
Unlocking the full potential of SEN students from the start of their education will have a direct impact on society. Today, SEN students are being let down by outdated technology and bureaucracy from the onset. There is a huge potential among these pupils, but due to administrative hurdles the available government funding is not properly allocated. This doesn't only affect specific students, but it influences the entire budget schools receive for all of their SEN pupils. The adverse impact on the customised and adapted attention that each of these students requires will affect them throughout their education.
The SENDit solution will significantly improve education inclusion for 1.5 million pupils in the UK, and has the ability to turn around a £1.3bn government funding deficit into a value adding proposition. A cooperation between private and public sector can furthermore create additional export revenue and promote inclusion in education abroad by raising standards and simplifying processes.
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Joe Conlon, CEO
Based in Leicestershire, UK, Impact Education Ltd. develops cloud-based solutions to optimise Special Education Needs & Disabilities (SEND) management for education professionals, leaders and special education needs coordinators (SENCo).