We worked with the Department for Education (DfE) on 2 services that give additional payments to teachers, with the aim of helping with recruitment and retention in England. This was a significant project lasting over a year with a large team.
Additional payments are part of DfE’s strategy for the recruitment and retention of teachers. They want to support teachers to join and stay in the profession by specifically targeting teachers within the first 5 years of their career, and this is where the new services come in. The project ran from March 2019 to April 2020.
The first service we worked on was for teachers to claim back their student loan repayments and the second was for maths and physics teachers to claim additional payments.
A team of civil servants, dxw, and our partner agency for this project, Paper, worked together to design services that would support these 2 policies.
In the first year of the service, teachers had submitted over 2,600 claims across both policies. DfE staff had validated claims and paid out over £3.4 million to eligible teachers.
Similarities between the 2 policies led us to create a single extendable codebase that would meet DfE requirements in an efficient way and support additional policies. In addition to this, a ‘back end’ was created to facilitate the checking of claims with different requirements in a user-centred way.
A by-product of our work, and part of our desire to leave a positive lasting legacy, resulted in the creation of a pattern library. This has been shared with DfE so the wider community can learn from our research and experience. (https://dfe-claim-design-system.herokuapp.com)
Ways of working
Throughout the project, we worked at the DfE offices in Manchester, Paper’s office in Sheffield or at the dxw North office in Leeds. Co-locating helped us to quickly bond as a team, as well as build a relationship with the policy team responsible for the service, and the other digital teams delivering within DfE.
Due to the size of the team, (at its largest around 28 active members, 16 in the delivery team and 12 in the policy team) remote working and actively maintaining communication became core practices. We were also able to use this as an opportunity to help instil agile working practices at DfE.
What we learned
We encountered a few challenges building these online payments services. The services essentially had to act like payroll software, with DfE being a secondary employer. The department had to ensure that teachers are paid the right amount and were not worse off due to the additional tax contributions from these payments. It also had to calculate and pay the right amount of tax and contributions.
Some teachers did not have straightforward claims as they had worked in multiple schools, for example, or had additional non-teaching sources of income which would not be eligible for relief. We also discovered that HMRC uses a person’s gender as identity verification which has implications for our inclusive design approach.
The election in December 2019 meant that one of the services had to go into public beta earlier than we’d planned as the pre-election period would have delayed the project by a number of months. We refocused our efforts to make this possible at short notice. Our agile ways of working allowed us to pivot mid-sprint and focus on allowing teachers to submit claims, and defer work to allow claims to be validated online until later.
By working together as one multidisciplinary team, we were able to build 2 services that will ultimately help increase the number of teachers in England and encourage them to stay in the profession.