Creating an online presence

Royal Wootton Bassett Academy is a mixed comprehensive in North Wiltshire, offering an outstanding educational experience for 11 to 18 year olds. The Academy aims to continue to develop beyond the ‘outstanding’ grading awarded by OFSTED in November 2011 and views the achievement and development of its students as its key focus.
More and more schools and academies are utilising the internet to share information with their existing and prospective parents, students and the wider community, whether this be through school websites or learning platforms. In the increasingly digital culture in which we now live, it was particularly important for Royal Wootton Bassett Academy to develop a dynamic and exciting new website that offered a true and current representation of the vibrant learning environment that epitomizes the Academy.
In-house or outsourced?
An important decision when considering the development of a school website is whether to use an in-house or external team of designers.  Royal Wootton Bassett Academy felt it was most appropriate to use an external company this time. Constructing and maintaining an in-house website from scratch can be an extremely time consuming job to carry out and it is important to avoid putting undue pressure on a small number of individuals with the expertise to do this. There are a number of companies available that offer great website design services, and as a result the staff involved at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy researched several companies before making their final choice. Angela Bell, Assistant Head Teacher at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, felt there were several factors that needed to be considered when choosing a school website design company: “What could the company offer in terms of design, technical support and, most importantly, how simple would it be to maintain and edit the website in-house once it went live? An understanding of the educational sector was also an important consideration for us in order to offer a website with a relevant tone or feel.”
A team effort
Throughout the process, Angela and fellow Assistant Head Teacher Steve Gillott worked closely together. Steve commented: “We thought carefully about the purpose, content and look of the website, and studied other types of school websites. With so much variety and so many different ways of doing things, we definitely felt that taking some time to consider the available styles, layouts and formats, inspired us to create a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve. We wanted to create an eye-catching and interesting website that gave visitors a real flavour of what Royal Wootton Bassett Academy is like, whilst looking professional and being simple and intuitive to navigate”.
Royal Wootton Bassett Academy used feedback from student voice, parent voice and Governor comments to help formulate the overall design and throughout the process the Academy leadership team were consulted about the look and feel of the burgeoning website.
A route to engage
From the start, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy felt that it was very important to be clear about the purpose of the website. Whilst some schools choose to use their website as a way of sharing learning resources, others might simply use it as an ‘online prospectus’.  To create a portal for engaging with the wider community was what the staff at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy had in mind. Steve explained: “We wanted to create a portal for engaging with the wider community, sharing information with students, parents, carers, staff, governors and other interested parties alike. We deliberately chose not to use it as a way of sharing learning resources as this purpose is served through our learning platform, which is a separate system but accessible through the school website. This is password protected and enables students, staff, parents and carers to access specific information and resources that it would not be appropriate to share in the public forum of a website. Our website was therefore designed to be a creative and informative ‘public face’ of the school, sharing news and helpful information.”

Involving parents
Engaging and involving parents and carers in what is going on in school was an important aspect of the school website for Royal Wootton Bassett Academy. The ability to easily update important information or dates on the website is helping parents and carers keep abreast of the latest news and events taking place at the school. Downloadable newsletters are particularly helpful for those parents whose children tend to lose them at the bottom of their school bag. Another popular feature that Royal Wootton Bassett Academy decided to include on the school website is the gallery section where photos of school events can be shared, for instance, a recent school sports day, enabling visitors to catch a glimpse of the numerous activities that the students participate in. 
Royal Wootton Bassett Academy’s website also caters for prospective parents, offering details of subjects that can be taken at the school and providing information about the system of pastoral care. Having the facility to download both the main school prospectus and the Sixth Form prospectus in PDF format from the website also makes it easier for parents to find out about what Royal Wootton Bassett Academy has to offer when considering schools for their children.  
Royal Wootton Bassett Academy also maintains strong links within the wider community, including inviting local senior residents in to have a look at what learning is like for today’s students in the sixth form, promoted via the website.
Keeping up appearances
When considering the design of a school website, it is highly recommended to take into account the maintenance factor. Even for those who are reasonably ICT literate, this doesn’t always stretch to the in-depth technical knowledge required to maintain a website.

However, by using a Content Management System (CMS), website maintenance is simplified. “This was one of the features that most attracted us to the website design package offered by the company we employed to develop our site, School Website. By using a simple and intuitive system, new pages can be added quickly and easily, text swiftly inserted and photos uploaded,” explained Steve.
“There is also scope to add many other features such as video clips, blogs and payment forms. The ease with which the website can be edited means that we can adapt it over time as opportunities arise or needs change, for example our recent creation of a recruitment page, advertising vacancies at the school. The ability to respond spontaneously to events is what makes the CMS so useful and allows us to easily keep the website up to date. We decided to share the activity of updating the website between a small number of staff, which should avoid one person being left in sole control of updating the website – a huge task for one individual to undertake,” added Angela.
The experience that Royal Wootton Bassett Academy had of developing a school website was a really simple, easy process that has resulted in an exciting and dynamic website that the school is truly proud of. The website launch was in the last week of the school year and initial feedback from students, parents, staff and governors alike has been very positive. 
Angela concluded: “After having had such a successful experience in developing our school website, we would be keen to encourage other schools not to feel daunted by the prospect of developing a new school website. Working as an in-school team with the excellent support and expertise of our website design company has enabled us to develop a website that we hope gives visitors to the site a glimpse of the vibrant Royal Wootton Bassett Academy community.”

Further information