schoolguide-victoria-bondSchoolGuide, based in Bath, is one of the most comprehensive resources in the UK for parents looking for the right school for their child – a database of schools from across the UK which offers in-depth analysis on everything from grades to tutors.

TechSPARK caught up with founder, Victoria Bond, a former journalist for newspapers including The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, to talk about the service, its development and her future plans for the site.

TechSPARK: What inspired you to set up SchoolGuide?

Victoria Bond: When I was first looking for schools for my older son, I had to go to several different websites to find the information that I needed, and then I had to pull all the key data together myself. Exam data was in one place; Ofsted ratings in another. By the time I had found the school’s website and pulled up a Google map to plot its location, I had so many tabs open I couldn’t face starting the same research project for another school.

“I wanted to create a site that I would use, one that would put all the key school statistics in one place and allow me to compare all my local options, quickly and easily.”

 

I wanted to create a site that I would use, one that would put all the key school statistics in one place and allow me to compare all my local options, quickly and easily.

TS: It’s quite a change from broadsheet journalism, do you ever miss chasing stories and writing?

​VB: I still chase stories and write the SchoolGuide blog, and I play an active role in our social media streams so I get my creative fix that way. I’m planning to add more video blogs to the site over the coming months, and have some exciting interviews lined up with educational experts. Plus I get to ‘interview’ parents from every corner of the UK who call SchoolGuide to talk about schools and choices.

SchoolGuide.co.uk: Learn more about how the site works from Victoria in this video 

I also write on education for a few magazines so dip in to my old life from time to time. I do miss flicking through a Sunday magazine and seeing my name, but I love the immediacy of creating digital content.

TS: How many people are in the SchoolGuide team?

​ VB: We have a small office-based team that expands and contracts across the week. As a working mum myself, I am a big supporter of flexible working.

There’s a core team of five and we employ a range of excellent local freelancers for design, social media and development work as and when we need them. I’m very lucky to be working with a team who believe in SchoolGuide as strongly as I do.

TS: Are you looking to expand the site or add extra elements to it?

​VB: We are expanding all the time both in terms of the adding new data fields and also adding value to the core site with new streams of information like our Tutor Directory and Parent Reviews.

Our main priority for the autumn is to add catchment area information to ​the site – an incredibly valuable addition for parents.

TS: The site includes a huge range of data on schools, how long did it take to get the site up and running once you had conceived the idea?

​VB: SchoolGuide started as a six-week project and expanded to 12 months of planning, building and testing. We launched a beta site in May 2013, six months after pressing go on the idea, and refined the product and UI over the next six months in line with visitor feedback. We officially launched in September 2013.

VictoriaBond__SchoolGuide

School’s in: Former journalist turned startup founder, Victoria Bond

With 30,000 schools, and each one offering at least five data points, it was a huge job to crunch the data. Thankfully we had a fantastic CTO in leading Ruby on Rails developer, Tom Buckley Houston. We also did a lot of work to get the UI right and introduce data visualisations and friendly icons. Combining strong colours and clear graphics with a massive amount of useful data set us apart from the outset.

“Mumsnet picked up on SchoolGuide just a few weeks after ​we launched and approached us about working together”

 

TS: How did the role as official data provider to Mumsnet come about?

​VB: Mumsnet picked up on SchoolGuide just a few weeks after ​we launched and approached us about working together. They were looking to expand their education pages and wanted to partner with an organisation that shared their core mission: to make parents’ lives easier. We are very proud of the relationship and have learnt a lot from working with a site with such a large number of fiercely loyal visitors.

TS: SchoolGuide also partners with Hodder Education and OUP. Again, how did this partnership come about?

​VB: Traditional publishers increasingly want to target parents online and we have opened up the opportunity for both companies to reach a large number of engaged parents via a modern digital interface. Both publishers have a strong presence in the 11+ and Common Entrance exam market and this perfectly matches the interests of our core users.

OUP were one of our first advertisers and the relationship built to a longer term sponsorship of our Tutor Directory because the brand association was very effective from the start. Hodder, on the other hand, were clear from the outset that they wanted a significant presence on our site and Galore Park, their parent-facing exam preparation brand, is our homepage sponsor with exclusive residency until Spring 2015.

TS: The interactive element of the site where parents can post their own reviews of schools is very useful, how closely is this section moderated?

​VB: Very. We have a full time moderator and work to careful guidelines to ensure we only publish reviews that are judged to be helpful to other parents.

Promo_image

Guiding light: The directory provides information on 30,000 schools across the UK,
helping families make the best educational choices

This doesn’t mean we don’t allow negative comments – we do – but SchoolGuide is a positive community and I want visitors to arrive, exhale, and feel that they are among people they can rely upon and trust to help them.

schoolguide-iphone-appTS: When was the SchoolGuide app developed and released?

​VB: We built the iOS app in the summer of 2014 and are working on an update to add more data fields. It has healthy and very steady daily ​sales, consistently gets 5-star reviews on the App Store, and it complements our browser site very well.

TS: What plans do you have for SchoolGuide, might you develop a college and university guide?

​VB: Potentially. Nurseries are an obvious next step and further education colleges too. There’s no reason why we couldn’t expand the concept to health or leisure services either. Certainly for the next 12 months at least, however, we have ambitious plans for SchoolGuide that will set it further ahead than other school data providers than ever before.

TS: What’s the best thing about being based in Bath?

VB: The city is small enough for you to get to know a lot of people who are working in and promoting technology, but large enough to have everything you need to start and build a UK brand from scratch.

Bath is also a brilliant place to raise a family. I moved out of London a decade ago now and have never looked back.

“Bath is small enough for you to get to know a lot of people who are working in and promoting technology, but large enough to have everything you need to start and build a UK brand from scratch”

 

The schools are great, and I relish being able to walk to my office from home and never face a commuter train or tube. Every day I look around and think what a beautiful city we live in. I love it.

TS: What other companies or sites based in the region do you rate?

​VB: Richard Godfrey and the team at Rocketmakers are exceptional software makers. ​We often use local survey company Usurv for polling parents on education issues, and always look to Bath Mums for fantastically reliable local parent’s news. Xcetra Media are always on point for design work and my new favourite social network is definitely Natter. It’s like Twitter but you can only use three words and one hashtag. It was built here in Bath and it’s definitely my one to watch for 2015. Very addictive for a wordsmith with OCD like me!

Many thanks to Victoria for talking to us, to keep up with developments in School Guide follow them on Twitter or check out their excellent blog

Louise Trimby