Developing and maintaining school data and information services.
The Department for Education (DfE) had a need to develop and maintain school and college data and information services, and increase the use of this data by providing useful and meaningful information that was easy to find and understand.
It also wanted to improve the quality of education by showing this key data to hold schools and colleges to account, and empower them to learn from others who perform better.
DfE engaged Olive Jar to replace and modernise several outdated legacy systems that were used to store and manage data and information on schools and colleges nationally, enabling a variety of users and stakeholders (DfE and its agencies, headteachers, teachers, school governors, local authorities, education trusts, parents, and the wider public) to visualise, extract and use data to compare school performance, spending, policies and other key information.
The programme comprises four concurrent digital services:
Get Information About Schools (GIAS)
Analyse School Performance (ASP)
Compare School and College Performance (CSCP), formerly School Performance Tables (SPT)
Review my School or College Data (RSCD)
GIAS is the source of master establishment data for several business-critical systems. It is the home of the database of school governors and feeds the new Schools Register and wider digital services.
ASP, CSCP and RSCD are services key to school accountability policy focused on creating a self-improving school system; engaging parents, school leaders, school governors and Ofsted to help improve education nationally.
Olive Jar replaced all legacy systems, delivering as follows:
A primary task was to replace GIAS’ outdated predecessor, Edubase, with a more advanced system that could effectively meet the needs of schools, multi-academy trusts, local authorities, children’s centres, Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), parents and the public. The system was also outsourced to an external provider, and DfE wanted to bring it in-house.
We engaged all users through interviews, workshops and observational testing, focusing delivery on the main components of the system:
A website that allows users to manipulate school data
A core RESTful API on which the website will depend
A mechanism for downloading all public data.
We worked with the previous supplier, and with DfE’s Technical Design Authority and Enterprise Architects to ensure that the most suitable solutions were chosen, and with DfE and ESFA to ensure data quality. We created bespoke tools and processes to manage the ever-changing data schemas and introduction of new data sets, enabling the provision of iterative releases that could be user-tested before the final data was available.
The new GIAS was successfully delivered through Alpha, Beta and Live.
Analyse School Performance (ASP)
ASP was delivered to replace the previous RAISEonline service and provide schools, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and dioceses with access to detailed performance data to assess schools’ strengths and weaknesses, informing school improvement strategies.
Compared with RAISEonline, ASP was required to deliver:
Ability to create flexible views of the data with a range of different comparators
Facility to adjust the basic data to allow for correct schedules to be run or analysed with key individuals removed
Independent expert analysis of data to support school’s improvement plans
Aggregated views for multi-academy trusts, dioceses and local authorities.
We addressed this through comprehensive user research, entirely qualitative, consisting mostly of a set of telephone and face-to-face interviews, to discuss how individual persons used performance data, RAISEonline and other related tools.
Research findings informed prototyping and development, adhering to the Service Standard, rapidly and successfully developing the system through Alpha, Beta and Live.
ASP was the first hybrid secure project to be hosted on DfE’s PaaS solution (Azure). We designed the system using best-fit Azure components that would achieve scalability, maintainability, monitoring and security goals.
Compare School and College Performance (CSCP)
CSCP (https://www.gov.uk/school-performance-tables) is a digital service that ensures high-quality school and college data is made publicly available to view and download, allowing users to compare schools and colleges in their local area. Specifically, they can check and compare exam results, financial information and Ofsted reports.
This service is an important part of the accountability system for schools and 16-18 providers nationally, aiming to raise standards in education, inform parental choice and meet government guidelines on data transparency.
The previous, now retired service, was not able to meet requirements – it was difficult to navigate and did not present data to users in formats they needed.
Olive Jar delivered the new CSCP from Discovery to Live, passing all GDS assessments.
Our solution design was based on comprehensive user research, which gave us deep understanding of the user needs, pain points and improvement opportunities. Based on research insights, our developers built a solution that includes several new features (e.g. increased number of filters for data query, a page for each school/college presenting the latest published data, mechanisms for users to add or remove schools/colleges from a comparison basket, and more), allowing users to view and compare data for individual or multiple schools and colleges. In addition, providing access to the underlying data via downloads and an API allows advanced users (e.g. academics and development teams) to analyse the data at a deeper level themselves, or to create new services.
Review my School or College Data (RSCD)
RSCD is a secure digital service that allows schools and colleges to view, check and make requests to amend their cohort data before publication. The service also provides schools/colleges with early access to data, enabling them to plan for the anticipated data before publication.
DfE engaged Olive Jar to replace the old, out-sourced Schools Checking Service, bringing in-house a digital front-end interface that enables schools/colleges to access and request amendments to their data, as well as a CRM solution for an internal helpdesk team to triage and process requested amendments.
Olive Jar delivered RSCD from Discovery to Live.
During Discovery, we conducted research with DfE data operations/helpdesk users, union representatives, Ofsted and schools/colleges to better understand current workflows and pain points. We built service maps detailing end-to-end offline and online customer experience, analysed technical options and used A/B testing to inform a design direction.
Moving to Alpha, we extended research to wider user groups, continually building our knowledge of the digital front-end and helpdesk workflows, re-using ASP components/patterns/services (e.g. Enterprise CRM).
In Beta we integrated Azure App Configuration to centrally manage checking windows with zero service downtime, resolving the initial gap between Enterprise CRM’s out-of-the-box capabilities and our helpdesk designs through ongoing iterative usability testing, up to the final successful deployment. We utilised emerging technologies (AI, machine learning, Robotic Process Automation platforms) to automate manual processes, optimising time.
Across the programme our multidisciplinary teams used Agile Scrum delivery methodology, bringing previous suppliers on board and into our sprint ceremonies and planning meetings.
Planning, designing and research was done in two-week sprint cycles. We built fast, maintained complete transparency, and delivered value quickly and predictably, all the while gaining early feedback from real users.
Meeting user needs
We developed personas, captured user needs and user journeys, grouped and prioritised these, and brainstormed multiple potential solutions to meet each. We built prototypes, shared and tested these with users for feedback, and iterated and retested the designs as we went along, always ensuring the result was what the users needed.
GOV.UK Design System
We used the GOV.UK Design System for templates, layout, fonts and interaction design, and advanced browser features for users with additional needs to customise the application, e.g. enabling speech synthesis, and customisable contrast and font size to help visual impairments, meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WACG) and Service Standard.
Our team used HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, MVC and GOV.UK Service Toolkit to deliver services that adhere to GDS principles and enable rapid development.
We managed development, staging and production environments in Azure, including configuration, monitoring and deployments. We used Azure DevOps to facilitate Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery to all environments, using industry-standard blue/green deployment strategies.
The GIAS service now enables many more user groups to create and manage school data. The API replaces many disparate systems that were incorrectly used as the source of school data. It also allows us to feedback school data to the GDS Schools Registers and be the custodian of our data sets.
ASP service now delivers an improved navigation that helps users find data they need more quickly. It presents performance data in accessible ways to help stakeholders visualise and understand trends and identify underperforming groups, while encouraging heads, teachers and governors to use the data to improve performance, plan interventions and inform development plans.
The CSCP service now enables parents to make performance comparisons between local, similar or any combination of schools/colleges. The data from the service also informs new DfE policy decisions, and allows more visibility of where schools could improve.
CSCP is one of DfE’s largest digital services with approximately 5 million daily views. Olive Jar won several DfE awards for its delivery, including ‘Operational Excellence’, ‘Usability and Quality’, and ‘Best Team’.
RSCD has successfully replaced the Schools Checking Service, enabling schools/colleges to request amendments to their data before publication, and supporting the internal helpdesk team in processing applications more efficiently through a bespoke CRM.