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Public Sector
Department for Education
 Schools Financial Benchmarking

Helping similar schools make comparisons between their spending

Image by M. Monk

The purpose of the Schools Financial Benchmarking service ( is to enable schools to make comparisons between their own spending and that of similar schools in various categories. This information should be used by school leaders to inform their spending decisions and to identify if, where, and how spending changes could be made to support pupil progress within the available level of resources. 


The legacy solution for SFB was outdated: it used old technologies and infrastructure, which were difficult to maintain due to the lack of legacy skills in the industry. It was also slow, insecure and lost crucial data. Notably, it was difficult for its users to navigate and use, and it didn't meet their needs. 

A new SFB service was required, and the Department for Education (DfE) partnered with Olive Jar to deliver the entire new solution. 

User Research

A crucial element from the very beginning was user research, to deeply understand users and their specific needs. To this aim, we worked with school governors, headteachers, school business managers and service managers through workshops, interviews and surveys. 

As patterns appeared from research insights, we started to build personas, emotion and experience maps, which we used as the bedrock of further design and development. This also helped identify the unmet needs and pain points, giving us the opportunity to build out user journeys that began to answer these problems. 

Continuing down this path we could firm these into deeper journeys through User Interface flows, interaction design and acceptance criteria. 

We built prototypes and tested them with users for feedback. We iterated these designs, testing and building as we went along, ensuring the result was what the users needed. 

Design, Data, Development  

Our developers worked closely with the multidisciplinary delivery team across Discovery, Alpha and Beta, providing full stack development, producing extensible, flexible open source code that handled the inconsistently formatted files from the legacy solution, and merged them into cohesive, manageable datasets. Our team created a facade around the data to be easily queried and surfaced via a web application. We created canonical data sets from disparate data sources across the DfE estate, performing data analysis and reconfiguration, to present data in a way that meets user needs. 

We used GOV.UK Design System for the templates, layout, fonts and interaction design, adhering to the Service Standard. For accessibility, we’ve utilised advanced browser features for users with additional needs to customise the application, e.g. enabling speech synthesis, customisable contrast and font size to help with visual impairments. SFB has successfully passed accessibility audits. 

Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters

The SFB service now enables schools to make comparisons between their own spending and that of similar schools in various categories, helping school leaders with their spending decisions and in supporting pupil progress accordingly. The data from the service also helps inform new policy changes for DfE.  

The service is accessible to all user types, aligns to all GDS Standards, and meets all its user needs. 

“Olive Jar colleagues have consistently gone above and beyond the strict terms of their contract, and have become trusted experts in this area as the site has developed. As the product owner, I rely heavily on their expertise and professionalism.” 
Policy Advisor / Product Owner, DfE

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