Replacing legacy technology to deliver better services for schools

Department for Education

With more schools expected to become academies, improving the conversion process is essential to being able to deliver for them

The Department for Education (DfE) wants to improve the process for schools converting to academy status by replacing legacy technology with something more user-centred

We’re working together with DfE staff and another agency in blended, multidisciplinary teams to research, design and deliver different parts of the services responsible for converting schools to academies and running them once they are established.

Why is this important?

We started working with DfE in Spring 2022 with the overall goal of enabling the Department to respond to academy transfer and conversion applications more efficiently, and building their capacity to deal with future increases in demand.   

This is a specialised service, with users being professionals within DfE and schools. With more schools expected to become academies, improving the conversion process is essential to being able to deliver for them. The officers in charge of making sure this process runs smoothly currently rely on outdated legacy systems. DfE asked us to work with them to replace these systems with new technology that meets their needs.

What we need to create

We were tasked with delivering 3 main things. A new minimum viable conversions and transfers process (known as the Manage Academy project), a new minimum viable product for concerns, and ensuring that other existing services are fit for purpose. 

Manage Academy covers everything from schools applying to become an academy until their transfer journey is complete. Whilst concerns covers issues with the way trusts are being run (these could be related to finances, governance or safeguarding). 

What we’ve done so far

This is a long term programme of work. Over the last 12 months we have worked as part of various blended teams, bringing different specialisms into projects as and when needed. 

As DfE were already part way through replacing their legacy systems when we arrived, we needed to move quickly to get up-to-speed and identify where we could add the greatest value. We began by conducting a strategy and business analysis review to understand how new systems can help delivery officers, and developing a performance analysis framework for the digital programme supporting the academisation process.

Here’s some of the work we’ve done since then.

i) Manage academy projects – a new conversions and transfers process

This project involved a full redesign and build of the academisation process and includes 3 products which cover different stages in the journey – Apply to Become, Prepare and Complete.

We now have a new academisation digital service for conversions and transfers. Each of the products is in beta and we’ve seen increased adoption this year. At the time of writing, 70% of cases have moved over from legacy technology and 283 active users are in the Complete stage.

ii) Record concerns and support for trusts (RECAST)

We have replaced the existing concerns technology with RECAST (Record Concerns and Support for Trusts) to meet the needs of users who record and manage this information and those who report on it.

Over 1,200 cases have been recorded since the service went into public beta in February 2023 (just under a year ago). RECAST has now been handed over to DfE service support and is being continuously improved. 

iii) Find information about academies and trusts

We have designed a minimum viable product for DfE staff to get detailed information about an academy or trust to help inform their decisions, assessments and actions when providing support. For example, they might look at Ofsted data to see how an academy has improved since joining a trust to decide if it’s a good fit for another school. 

This is a replacement for an existing system that’s not accessible for users.

iv) Manage free school projects

Another minimum viable product we’re about to launch in private beta, is a new project management tool designed to keep track of complex, long running projects to build and open free schools. The team will learn from real usage and make improvements to the product based on feedback from users.  

Influencing good practise

When we work with clients we always look for opportunities to improve ways of working in teams and the wider organisation.

As part of the programme, we’ve developed and deployed the Cognitive Walkthrough method for user research to make sure products and services support users with different access needs. 

We’ve also implemented a unified approach to Azure hosting and GitHub deployment, which has standardised the technology across teams, simplified and shortened development and release cycles, and significantly improved our security posture. Other programmes within DfE have now adopted the same approach.

Going forward

It’s a priority for us to make sure the future service can be handed over and rolled out by DfE digital delivery teams. So we’ve put a lot of effort more generally into knowledge sharing, sharing best practice and developing user guidance, to build the capability of these teams.

We’ll be continuing to work with DfE over the next 3 months.