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Using agile methods to help parents choose the right school

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Woman and child at computer

I recently joined an agile team as Associate Product Manager, looking at School Performance Tables. This is my first real experience of digital and agile ways of working.

What does it mean to be part of an agile team? Put simply, it means spending a lot of time talking to and observing users of our service to find out what works and what doesn’t. And changing things quickly if they are not working.

Improving user experience

One of the primary aims of the School Performance Tables service is to help parents choose the right school or college for their child. I joined the team when we were looking to make improvements to the parent experience.

We work in 2 week sprints in which we continually iterate and improve the usability, look and feel and content of the service.

User research told us that parents, one of our main user groups, were confused by technical and statistical terms in the service. This was a barrier to a lot of parents trying to make an informed choice for their child’s next school or college.

To address this, schools’ progress data has been simplified. The most important scores are now displayed in simple colour bands, with the more detailed figures and explanations available in 'pop-ups' (to give the data more meaning). Supporting information, such as confidence intervals, has also been simplified to make it easier to understand.

Helping parents

Agile results in services that help users accomplish their goals faster, more easily and more successfully. Traffic to the Schools Performance Tables site grew by around 40% in its first year, and by a similar amount again this year. In the last 12 months the service has had 3 million users, 5 million sessions and 26 million page views. That includes a lot of parents using school performance data to help them choose the right school for their children.

Back to basics

The DfE is re-developing, re-designing, re-thinking and improving its digital services by adopting a user-centred, agile approach. Analyse School Performance (ASP) has replaced RAISE Online, and Get Information About Schools has replaced Edubase. Replacing old services is just the beginning, our teams will be continuing to ask questions, test with users, analyse usage data and improve these services on an ongoing basis.

We know we still have much work to do, but we have an approach that enables us to learn and improve. This constant learning is a bit like being back at school again ourselves; by putting the user at the heart of what we do, we are able to improve how we help them make decisions about the right school or college for their child.


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