One problem that Multi Academy Trust environments have is 'how can we be confident that our academy schools are all displaying the most recent and correct policy documents?' In fact, this question has many threads to it, the most relevant being that the methods that many MATs use to keep schools updated rely on quite rudimentary but sadly flaw-ridden processes; emailing updated files to the school administration or head is one way for the school to miss the email or they see it but action it much later than the MAT head office would like. That, or the MAT administrator has to login to each remote school console and make the changes themselves. Its all a real pain.

Either route leaves the risk that a document may be duplicated, leaving older versions of policies and reports remaining on a school site alongside its newer version simply because school administrators forgot to remove the old ones. These tasks in schools consume valuable time and effort.

The result of this reliance on email based instructions and the aspiration for in-school administrators to act quickly and accurately can lead to major inconsistencies between schools within a MAT, in spite of the best efforts of all concerned.

All of our MAT customers have experienced these difficulties at some stage and a couple of them approached us to see if we had a way to simplify the process. They wanted a way to :

  • eliminate the need for email distribution of documents
  • remove the possibility of document inconsistency within an individual school
  •  eliminate the potential for inter-school inconsistency in terms of policy documentation on display

As Jeremy Clarkson would say, "so, we came up with a plan"...

Using the toys we already have

All of our schools make use of a document management component called DropFiles - it's a simple drag-and-drop application allowing administrators to take documents from their computer desktop and drag them into web folders which will then allow the website to quickly display those files on associated pages. All of these files are stored locally on each school's website and this means that all schools in an academy and the trust headquarters itself are totally independent of each other in terms of document managing, which doesn't really help in content alignment across a trust.

So we investigated some of the advanced features which DropFiles offers and we looked at the potential of using a single Google Drive as a way to distribute documents to remote school websites. Sadly, this first idea hit the dirt quite quickly. Google Drive is only able to communicate with a single peer system. in other words, Google Drive sees the website which it talks to as if it were a person and it can't talk to several at once automatically - we tried it, we failed and went back to the drawing board.

Our second approach was to use DropBox, and this is where things got really interesting.

Unlike Google Drive, DropBox has the capability of authenticating against multiple remote users. The communication between a website and DropBox is secure and uses things called API keys to do this. Then, on top of this, each remote 'user' or website site has its own unique authentication code and that means that we can now connect up to 500 sites together so that they all share a single dropbox account!

Our first tests were so successful that with minimal tidying we were able to connect a central office trust website to a couple of remote schools as a trial. Each of these three location websites were configured to communicate with the same DropBox account which had been set up by the MAT headquarters team. Following the first manual synchronisation (all synchronisations which follow are then automatic), each of the three websites could see the same DropBox folder.

Clearly, this was a major advantage! It now meant that the headquarters team could add documents to their 'view' of the DropBox folder in their own Dropfiles system on their website and they would, after a few minutes synchronisation delay, be displayed on the two remote school websites with no action required on school staff.

This means that the headquarters team can now manage all of the updates of centralised policies and reports from one location - their own website. They do not need to login to DropBox and they can create as many folders as needed which can then be embedded on pages on remote sites. School staff need not even know that the head office team have made any changes, they just happen automatically during the day.

The benefits to the school are significant; they now know that they don't need to worry about emails containing attachments being lost or not actioned quickly enough and they can be sure the possibility of version control is managed by those who have the best view, namely the head office team. This saves time and effort and removes yet another hurdle in the school office. It also means that the head office don't need to worry about a school actioning a request to update a document. They simply manage the file locally on their own website safe in the knowledge that within a few minutes those changes will be propagated out to every single school within their trust ( assuming that those schools are all able to support Dropfiles which Tapiochre provide on all of their websites).

And there's more...

From time to time there may be pages or sections of pages related to the trust which need to be updated across all schools. Ensuring that the text is provided accurately, and is added appropriately by the school administrator, brings into play the same issues as above. So, we have investigated the option to provide remote page embedding where a page created on the trust website can be embedded on every single school in the trust. Changes made at the central office website are then immediately (i.e. no synchronisation delays) visible on all remote websites.

An additional benefit of this embedding method is, with the right support from technical teams at other web service providers, these embeddable pages can be added to any website regardless of underlying technology. For those who want to know the technical detail, we're simply talking about iframes.

If you like to know more, get in touch and we will give you the details for your own MAT.

Our Blog...

We blog from time to time when there is something worth blogging about! We look at how schools change how they use their websites and how we can respond to those changes and when we have something really interesting to say, we will! Thanks for reading!

Latest News

July 01, 2021

Centralised File Management for MATs

One problem that Multi Academy Trust environments have is 'how can we be confident that our academy schools are all displaying the most recent and correct policy documents?' In fact, this question has many threads to it, the most relevant being that the methods that many MATs use to keep schools updated rely on quite rudimentary but sadly flaw-ridden processes; emailing updated files to the school administration or head is one way for the school to miss the email or they see it but action it much later than the MAT head office would like. That, or the MAT administrator has to login to each remote school console and make the changes themselves. Its all a real pain.

May 05, 2021

Online Training Course Successes!

In January 2021, Tapiochre undertook the delivery of online training courses for their school customers. The impact of coronavirus was continuing to  impact the ability to visit schools to provide face-to-face coaching and despite best efforts it was simply impossible to attend in person as we normally do. One of the keys of implementing a successful remote coaching service is to ensure that not only is it properly marketed but it also has to be easy for attendees to book onto chosen sessions and to  benefit from timely and appropriate communication about the event.

August 21, 2020

Ditch paper-based newsletters? Surely not?

Since the emergence of wordprocessing and desktop publishing, schools have sent out newsletters in Microsoft Word or Publisher to parents in hardcopy or electronically. And the timing of those newsletters differs from weekly to once per term, so we often get quite a varied response when we ask how these schools deal with the newsletter problem.

August 29, 2018

Social Networks - thoughts for Schools

If I had a pound for every head teacher who said they were worried about using the leading social media platforms "Twitter" and "Facebook" I think I would have £45.00, or perhaps more. The main fears are that, let's call them, 'certain users' will take advantage of the ability to publically post comments as a way to complain or, even worse, be abusive or threatening toward the school or its staff. From experience, such behaviour is rare but when it does happen the implications for the school can be significant, calling up all manner of policies like complaints, greivances, acceptable use,  safeguarding and more.

August 21, 2020

What's a decent school blog page look like?

I am often asked this question when primary schools start blogging. Essentially, the question stems from a fear of the unknown but experience has shown that teachers make excellent bloggers and there is a good reason for this. Teachers know what is happening in their classrooms, better than anyone else.

September 16, 2020

Statutory Information for school websites

Schools often ask us if there is a prescribed set of information which has to be provided in order to be compliant with government legislation. This legislation was established in September 2012 and continues to evolve as regulatory demands change. Occasionally, local authorities will make recommendations for additional content to be shown on your school website. This is further compounded by the demands of schools within a diocesan setting. Please refer to your local setting for this guidance.

August 25, 2019

The beauty of Open Source

We like to 'bang on' about Open Source (OS). The very nature of OS software (or hardware) creates significant benefits for us and for our customers because it reduces 'time to market' for our websites and also drives cost out of the business model. Why make things from scratch if OS offers low cost but highly functional software as a way to build websites and online applications.

August 24, 2019

Do we 'do' WordPress?

Well, there’s a good question!

As most of our websites need the levels of massive flexibility for the positioning of blocks of information on different pages and in different locations on that page, we have generally used the Joomla content management system (CMS). The fact that we often need to add a chunk of information in any position we wish on any page that we desire is so well handled by Joomla’s modular framework that it is the logical decision to use it instead of WordPress. That doesn't mean to say that WordPress is not a valid option for some blogging and medium-sized websites. In fact, we have seen some fairly significant scale corporate websites running WordPress!