How can children’s services get data savvy? Apprenticeships

Published: 14 August 2020

Eight reasons why data science apprenticeships can help local authorities to improve children’s lives. 

I’ve been working for a while with children’s services teams in local authorities, using data insights to improve service delivery and outcomes. I love getting stuck into the data, but I am only one person with a limited impact.

If we’re going to transform how the sector uses data to improve children’s lives, we need a different approach. The sector could learn how to do this type of work themselves.

We are collaborating with a group of local authorities to design a data science apprenticeship tailored to children’s services. The apprentices will learn how to conduct analysis, automate repetitive tasks and investigate data trends.

For the past few months, we’ve been in touch with local authority teams dealing with child data and apprenticeships providers across the country. This is what we’ve learned so far.

Apprenticeships offer great value for money

  • Apprenticeships areeffective: learners apply what they’ve learnt in their day job, ensuring new skills are assimilated quickly and can benefit to the rest of the team. Local authorities with experience of apprenticeships are convinced of their value.
  • Apprenticeships can be inexpensive: 100% of the cost is usually covered by the apprenticeship levy. This means that an existing member of staff on an apprenticeship will trigger no extra cost.

Apprenticeships can be tailored to what children’s services need

  • Generic data science apprenticeship courses do not work for children’s services. Some of the technical content is not relevant to what analysts typically do, and the assignments and exercises tend to simulate private sector activities (e.g. modelling stock market fluctuations), making it difficult to apply new skills to typical children’s services tasks.
  • Given a sufficiently large cohort, apprenticeship providers are happy to tailor existing data curriculums to make them relevant for children’s services.
  • We did user research with 20 councils and found a good consensus around the skills to learn, with a willingness to move away from Excel, grow visualisation and story-telling capabilities and learn how to do investigative analysis (e.g. children’s trajectory through care, predictions, identifying trends and outliers).
  • The first findings of the user research indicate that the tailoring would include: exercises and assignments relevant to children’s services, practice with typical children datasets, lighter workload during busy periods (e.g. statutory returns) and limited travel.

Demand is high

  • This project was met with a lot of excitement from local authorities. 26% of English councils took our short survey and all participants in our user research sessions declared they/​their team members would be interested in the apprenticeship.
  • We also had good engagement from four apprenticeship providers, all keen to embark on this adventure.

What’s next?

We are finalising the user research over the summer, asking Performance teams what impactful analysis they’d like to do and how the apprenticeship could be adapted to their needs. We will consolidate our findings and share them.

We are also setting up a Design Panel made of Children’s Services leaders, data analysts, government and members of the data science community. The Panel will inform the development of the curriculum.

We will co-design the apprenticeship course throughout 2020 and aim to launch in March 2021. The first cohort will have 30 places available.

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