Creating a user-centred school admissions service with Buckinghamshire County Council


Discovery, alpha and beta phases to create school admissions service

  • First steps in improving end-to-end digital services for 522,000 local residents
  • Buckinghamshire County Council’s first agile project
  • School admissions service redesigned around user needs
  • Launched digital service with immediate cost-savings


Children placed in schools per year in the district


Overall cost-saving target

Adopting a digital service standard

Buckinghamshire County Council provides services to over 522,000 local residents. As a first step in their cost-saving target of £1.8 million, and with a focus on delivering an end-to-end exemplar service, Buckinghamshire County Council came to us with the aim of redesigning one of their highest volume services around user needs: ‘Find my child a school place’.

What our client had to say

Matthew Cain | Head of Digital | Buckinghamshire County Council

“We provide very few digital services at the moment. So we are working on some of the most complex, highest volume services to understand what our users want from the experience – and how much of the service can be delivered through digital. We believe we can only achieve this if we design services good enough that people self-serve online, and find them easy to use, first time.”

Discovering what the customer really wants

Customer feedback of current services revealed responses including: "It was a messy, unclear and painful process..." and "A horrendous experience...". This feedback, teamed with a high level of contact centre calls of customers experiencing service problems, meant we needed to explore readdressing the needs of the customer and recreating the service with effective user journeys. Engaging through face-to-face interviews and conversations resulted in a fresh range of customer personas and user needs to begin prototyping with.


What our client had to say

Helen Gracie | Business Improvement Manager | Buckinghamshire County Council

“We have been forced to move away from our comfort zone, leave our desks and find the people within the organisation with the authority to make a decision quickly. Some might call it being more agile. It has worked. We have achieved a lot in a short frame of time and impressed our colleagues sitting in their meetings along the way.”

MVP prototyping using user feedback

Our team encountered and overcame a series of technical challenges during the alpha phase, mostly around integration with existing business systems and data sources. The service was iterated and redesigned, with user journeys remapped, through MVP prototyping and incorporating the user feedback received. The completion of this phase highlighted the biggest risks for our team to tackle next in the beta phase.


An integrated approach to design and development

During the beta phase, our team chose an integrated design and development approach from sprint one. Design was broken down into five elements (research, user experience, user interface, visual and tone of voice), and each user story discussed before moving from ‘to-do’ into ‘doing’. Open discussion ensured a much clearer understanding of how to bring design and development together to address the impact of UX (user experience) and UI (user interface).

What our client had to say

Matthew Cain | Head of Digital | Buckinghamshire County Council

“We’ve learnt the core techniques for digital service development: developing personas, interviewing users, sketching solutions and prototyping.”

Reducing the volume of contact centre calls

Service design was constantly iterated to evaluate how users move successfully through the services, ensuring any barriers encountered were removed and relevant information addressed at the relevant stage. User research was used to map where key information would be placed in each process, with the aim of reducing the volume of query calls to contact centre calls, carrying a cost of £9.02 per call and £78.80 per school application.


Launched service with immediate cost-savings

With the digital service launched into the Live phase, meeting the Local Government Digital Service Standard and security and performance standards, Buckinghamshire County Council has begun experiencing the cost-saving benefits to their council budgets with ‘Find My Child a School Place’ set to save the council £100,000 in the next year.

Visit 'Find my Child a School Place'.

What our client had to say

Matthew Cain | Head of Digital | Buckinghamshire County Council

“We have taken two of our key residential services from inception to the Live phase, in just six months. Not only that, we have piloted Buckinghamshire County Council’s digital service standard through a full cycle, and allowed the whole team to experience transformation as a journey rather than an endpoint. We now have full confidence, as a council, in delivering our next set of digital services with Unboxed.”