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SENDirect launch

Many charities across the UK have previously joined together to campaign for positive change, but very few have come together to collaborate on the development of new, original services. ‘SENDirect’, a national online service launched in January 2015, has positively changed this notion.

The service, designed by families in partnership with the SEND Consortium and expertly designed and developed in-house by the Connect team, effectively empowers the families and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities to identify information regarding health, education and social care services within their local communities.

The service has been developed with the intention of revolutionising the way relevant information is accessed online, whilst presenting parents and carers with a unified platform and a clear path to researching and purchasing services online.

The platform provides unparalleled opportunity for parents and carers; allowing them to search for and compare activities, services and support for their child, communicate, review and negotiate on provision and make payments for services and goods online. At its very foundations, the service aims to create an understanding, nurtured and self-supporting community of parents and carers that collectively contribute to the future direction of services in a secure, credible and established digital environment.

A revolutionary collaborative vision

At the beating heart of SENDirect is a core group of charitable organisations working together to find a practical solution to existing problems, with the intention of ensuring that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities can actively engage, excel and succeed within their local communities. The SEND Consortium was formed in 2011 in order to collaborate on the development of new solutions and services and includes; Ambitious About Autism, Contact a Family, Dyslexia Action, I CAN, KIDS, Family Fund, Scope, Mencap, National Autistic Society. The Consortium is funded by the Department of Health and the Department for Education.

Jolanta Lasota, Chair of the SEND Consortium said: “We have developed SENDirect in direct response to the overwhelming number of families informing us that finding vital local services for a child with additional needs was over-complicated, confusing and the choice on offer was severely limited.

“We must now begin to accept that parents do not have the time or inclination to choose from what nine separate organisations have to offer. So, we are calling on organisations across England to join together with us by listing their services on the site.”

A digital platform that is built to last

Consideration for the service’s future was upheld throughout the developmental journey, with the most important objective of the online portal being to strategically inform future provision. As a result, the service now presents a unique and distinct opportunity to generate meaningful market development data, inform future planning and encourage a broader range of choices for parents and carers. The service’s infrastructure is capable of analysing unique user searches, identifying when people are looking for a service that is unavailable in their local area and then intelligently documenting these searches for use and consideration in later developments.

Additionally, a fluid user interface, a rounded user experience and an assured and secure system were at the fore of the project’s build, with the consistent aim of delivering an innovative web-based system that duly served the service’s desired user base. A combination of AGILE methodology, development sprints, user testing and industry-leading design techniques allowed for the SENDirect platform to evolve naturally and perfectly match the SEND Consortium’s beliefs, values and requirements.

Stephen Cohen, Web Project Manager at SENDirect said: “It has been a pleasure to work with Connect on the development of the SENDirect service, particularly because of their flexible and open-minded nature, which allowed the team to proactively support us and produce the best possible solutions to our challenges. We needed a team that were comfortable with an agile approach and were able to work in an environment where new information could mean a change of requirements at any point.

“Throughout the development of the service, Connect effectively demonstrated their experience at each individual stage of the project. From user personas and requirements gathering, through to the eventual build and subsequent user testing, Connect expertly supported us and provided added value to the SENDirect site.”

The future is bright for SENDirect

Looking ahead to the long-term future of SENDirect, it is clear that constructive user feedback, changing requirements and vocal support from its nurtured community will ultimately control the ongoing shape of the service. This user input, combined with the SEND Consortium’s diverse expertise and instinctive attitude to positive change will allow the platform to reach its full potential and naturally flourish into the revolutionary service it is destined to be.

To learn more about the SENDirect launch, and how the service aims to make life easier for families with children who have a disability or special educational needs, visit https://sendirect.org.uk.

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