A PSCSF member has shared an experience with us regarding an online school application which needs to be read to be believed. Anyone else had any similar experiences? If so, mail into nick@publicsectorforums.co.uk

The time had come for the very difficult decision that most parents dread – what school do I send my child too?  A few school visits, and several tense parental discussions later we reach our decision

A letter drops onto the doormat informing me that I should make my decision and fill out the online application – ‘A faster more efficient way to apply’.  Aha that’s the way for me so I sit at the laptop to complete my application.

As I press submit and receive the ‘Application Submitted’ email a sense of calm washes over me, the decision has been made, what’s done is done, now begins the wait until I receive the decision.
As the deadline approached my sense of calm begins to disappear, replaced by nagging doubts.  What if I have made a mistake?  Could I have selected the wrong tick box?  What if I am ruining her life before it has even started?

Relax – I can log back in to check my application.  Again I sit and log in using my username and password….NOT RECOGNISED…. try again, still no joy.  Odd as I had written both down, I must have copied it down wrong,  not to worry I shall click on the ‘Forgotten Password’ button and all will be well,  nothing happens, try again, still no joy.
How strange, so I decide to give the council a call…and so begins the hair pulling.

I get through to a friendly voice in the right department, explain my frustrating situation and complain that the forgotten password button is out of action.  Imagine my complete surprise when the friendly voice tells me that “no, the button wasn’t broken, it had never worked and was only ever added because it was felt that people would have expected it to be there”!!

Ok, deep breath, I ask the friendly voice how I would go about logging back in as despite me knowing that my password is correct I can’t seem to get back into my application.
The friendly voice sounds confused and explains that despite the web page telling me that  I can log back in and change my application at any time before the deadline – in actual fact I can’t, the system wont allow it, apparently it was only ever added because it was felt that people would have expected it to be there”, sound familiar?

The panic grips deeper as I explain to the friendly voice that I would really really like to review my submitted application before it is too late.
To help speed up the process of finding my application form I explain that I have the application number from the ‘Application Submitted’ email that was sent.
‘That number means nothing to us I’m afraid’ the ever friendly voice tells me.
Stunned Silence….”
Apparently they send a number to reassure you that your application has been received but it does not correlate to any of their systems, again it appears to be a case that it was only ever added because it was felt that people would have expected it to be there!!
In fact if I want to review my form I will have to make an appointment go into the council offices for a face to face meeting.

Childcare arrangements made, off I go to the council offices, to wait in line, a long line for my turn and end up sat at a desk with a not so friendly face trawling through the names until I see mine, I wait for the print out and review it, panic over all is as it was,  I say my thanks and leave shell-shocked and confused.

I return home and anxiously await the email that may or may not come to inform of our allocated school and consider the comments on that leaflet that came through my door a lifetime ago, ‘A faster more efficient way to apply’.  Are you absolutely sure about that?

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  • Anonymous

    That’s an epic fail!

    It’s pretty hard to argue that this limited functionality and integration isn’t going to be considerably cheaper to implement. A service that asks for a username and password but which then doesn’t do anything when submitted, is merely a form with no tracking. Similarly, taking such an approach might suggest that its back-end database integration is also limited, meaning contact details are processed inefficiently and therefore probably a lot cheaper than doing it properly. And I’m sure when you estimate how many of those potential citizens actually try to log back in and then call the council because they can’t, has a negligible cost.

    On some element it makes sense. The public sector has been subjected to cuts of up to 40% and so cost savings have to be made somewhere. However, I’m very much a believer in offering services online to enable cost savings. It is well documented how much councils can save using the web compared to the face-to-face or telephone. But, by doing so, you should be offering your citizens the same level of service as these other channels, including the extra benefits the web brings, such as a service that is faster and available at a time that suits the end user (see this post about 24x7x365 that the web offers: http://www.gossinteractive.com/blog/fully-transactional-websites-and-the-confusion-with-local-government-buzzwords).

    So what is the cost in the long-term? If the web channel is merely used as a cost cutting exercise instead of one to reduce costs and improve service, I can’t see how it will be sustainable in the long-term. Admissions are now closed, so this council got away with it this time. But what about next year? Do we continue to slash costs and at the same time likely reduce the quality of service? If so, I think it’s going to be ever harder for councils or the public sector to justify their budgets and in the long-term we will see the privatisation of these services similar to what is currently happening to the NHS.

    You can read my full response at http://www.gossinteractive.com/blog/the-gap-between-cutting-costs-and-improving-public-services


  • http://www.jenssorensen.co.uk/2011/02/the-gap-between-cutting-costs-and-improving-public-services/ The gap between cutting costs and improving public services | Online Marketing Blog | Digital Marketing Blog

    [...] Jens on February 18, 2011 I recently read an interesting post on Public Sector Customer Forums about a mother’s dreadful experience when trying to apply for the school admissions service [...]

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