We tested a ‘storyboard’ concept with users who are ‘offline’- for example, they may have no recourse to public funds and don’t speak English as their first language.

The storyboard took them through the journey they may take as a family applying for FSM, and included support mechanisms such as schools, local authorities and family hubs.

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We used an offline form available from the start page, which had been reviewed by our Content Designer to ensure it was written in plain English, and contained the minimum information required to conduct a check.

In this scenario, we were trying to support users who may lack the confidence or digital skills to complete a check using an online tool, and who may not have the relevant support or documents to escalate the process online.

Findings show that overall: users felt they weren’t equipped with enough information to navigate their circumstances, require clear signposting to support networks. Users welcomed the idea of submitting evidence to support their application but would prefer to do this upfront, and positively reacted to schools managing the querying process. However, there are concerns over ‘emotional coercion’. The offline application form received positive receptions, however users felt it would benefit from simpler language with the addition of contact details, and clear information of the querying process.

Going forward, we intend to run a workshop with the aim of building a ‘navigation guide’, iterate the storyboard to include user feedback, and work on content around privacy/data protection to put users’ minds at ease.


Round 2 of our FSM portal for school users tested well, except for schools handling the ‘appeals’ process.

Schools felt the proposed system will bring about efficiency gains, and allow them to see check results and promote FSM to those who may not have applied.

Handling the appeals process received mixed sentiments, as many users felt LAs were better placed to handle this process. Based on this insight, we will remove the functionality for schools to handle supporting documents and evidence in R3 of testing.

Local authorities

Two journeys were tested with LAs:

  • Childcare journey
  • Free school meals ourney.

Research showed that users largely used third party systems for childcare checks, with the exception of audit checks for 30 hours codes.

Feedback on 30-hour checks indicated check results were unhelpful.

Based upon these insights, we have focused on work around reporting results for 30-hour checks, whether the appeals process should sit within ECS for childcare, and understanding which department is best placed to relay results.

LA – Free school meals

The FSM concept was well received, though users expressed concerns over parent-led application being a sole route, which we have addressed as schools and LAs can apply on behalf of a family.

LAs expressed the need to view schools who have a low FSM take up, which we have addressed in R3 prototyping by splitting out users who have applied/have not. Similarly, users would like to export the data to run reports, which we have enabled going forward.

The suggestions were discussed by the ECS team, changes were tracked on user journey maps and a visual design history. User feedback was implemented ahead of R3 testing, with more minor tweaks placed in a backlog for Beta.