Learning from Devon School Closure Information

During the extreme weather in early 2010 The county council’s website struggled to keep up with the demands and high volume traffic and essentially deliver timely up to date information relating to school and route closures.

This consequently led to a review of a number of things including the performance of our website, the supporting processes and the wider business continuity plans.

A few meetings occurred which I was fortunate to be involved in and we considered a range of options about how we could respond and deal with this scenario in the future.

An example of the options we considered included:

  • SMS Solution Providers
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google Docs (spreadsheets and forms)
  • WordPress

The Approach:

The approach we settled for was to focus on improving and automating the information collection and ensuring that this was in a consistent and reusable format. Once collected the information could then be republished automatically either to the DCC site, a local school site or even to the local media

The web team in our Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) currently host and maintain approx 50% of school websites in Devon and would be able to implement a solution without too many issues.

On review it was considered that the most suitable and low-cost option would be to use Google – Total cost of development came to £240.

By using google it was possible to deliver an embedded form (which fed into a google spreadsheet) into a static HTML page with an iframe which could collate all the responses – this form would be password protected. Google also allows the content once collected to be emailed, published as a webpage or even reused via an RSS feed.

By implementing a simple PHP script the CYPS web team we were able to publish the appropriate content onto the DCC website and also to the school website without the need for a member of staff to re-enter any content.

The site is live and available at www.devonschoolclosures.info.

The process now essentially allows a Head Teacher or School Admin officer to access the form via their own website and to submit the details relating to the schools status. Once submitted the information is republished to the councils website and relevant DCC officers notified via email, all without any further manual intervention.


It was essential to ensure that the focus was always on the business issues and problems and not on the technologies themselves. To allow the techno logy to drive the solution could lead to greater risks and unforeseen issues further down the line.

By ensuring we focused on data collection and automating the process we were able to understand where new technologies could add value to the process and how they were able to facilitate a greater reuse of the data.

Social Media – a what if…or even when?

On my way home yesterday i heard some what i assumed to be mothers talking about schools and what Oftsed reports they had had and whether they thought they were justified or not. One mother stated “I’m not sure the Oftsed report is worth anything because it doesn’t tell you what really happens only what they want you to know”.  Now i am not going to agree or disagree with that statement, however it did get me thinking……

In the shower this morning, i started to think more about those comments and related it to the customer ratings on ebay.

WHAT IF….Schools perhaps alongside Oftsed reports were rated by parents, governors and pupils in the same way that you rate a customer on ebay. The picture this would build in your head about that school would be amazing and the comments would be invaluable.

This could of course apply across a range of local and or central government services for example, schools (as mentioned above), social care providers and local businesses to name a few. It could also contribute to or even replace the CPA/CAA ratings.

Perhaps this is happening already in some areas and i am just unaware, but i feel it has huge opportunities for service improvement, service design and  delivery to have real and personal feedback included in an open and transparent way.

Should Students be Banned from Social Networks at School?

This post by Nick ONeill on Social Media Today is interesting in the context of my previous post about young people and social networking sites.

My view is that we should be informing, educating and supporting young people to be more responsible online and far more aware of the dangers and security threats they may or may not face by sharing information online.

An excellent website that i am aware of called thinkuknow has some great information for young people, parents and practitioners in this area.

Personally from my experience young people see these sites primarily as ways in which they can continue the dialogue with their friends and do not always see the wider aspects of the platform they do it in.

before people start thinking about shutting down sites, they should focus on what is happening generally in the world and by banning sites now does not stop some of the things that happen in these sites from happening in the real world.

Some of the comments i received last week were that young people are concerned by bullying in these sites as well as in the real world…my view is that with a digital footprint, you have a clear audit trail of this type of activity then would if it were happening in the playground.

These are my views at present and i am continuing my thought process in this area as we need to make sure we make the right decisions for the right reasons. Anyway take a read of Nick’s post….