Building Accessible School Websites (9th March 2008)

Another person who wants to make a living by making websites the right way e-mailed me some questions about my work with Calthorpe Park School. The person is OK with me blogging the conversation as long as I anonymise their part.

I did the work [on my school website] for free because it was so simple.

My work with Calthorpe started for free, too.

Anyway - here it is: [website address]

Looks nice. Intuitive to use. Good markup. Well done!

So now, a couple of years on, a particularly stroppy mother at the school has basically said that it’s all crap and that we need to have a forum on there for parents (which she wants to administrate)

Definitely a troll.

should be looking at this site for inspiration and that she's getting a quote from the guys who did that site to update our school site. I think you can pretty much imagine my reaction when I took a look at that school site

Looks nasty. Nasty to use. Nasty Markup. Nasty.

They have loads of students’ work, which is a very cool thing.

(They rely on frames. I can’t link to their pages sanely.)

The underlying URLs are less nasty than I feared. But still nasty. How does “Biscuits, Speed Project, Tudor, Exploration & Space” become /5/2008/1.html? /work/year5/art/biscuits makes more sense, imho. With a breadcrumb trail on the resulting page so you could reach the index for each level in the URL, naturally.

Hmm, now I’m the one rambling...

I’ve suggested that if they want a forum I’ll install Vanilla

Your first thought was to use Vanilla? Not Invision or phpBB? A [person] after my own heart! Are you single? :-P

Firstly - my personal opinion is that a forum on a school website is a bad idea - it could turn very nasty. If a parent administrates it then it'll turn into a forum for their opinion, not the school. Was this an option that Calthorpe ever thought of and maybe discarded?

I think nobody has asked for an online forum.

We have various parent-run liason groups, such as the Calthorpe Park School Association. More recently, there are plans for a Parent Forum Group.

Our school has about 1,000 pupils. So if 10% of parents want to be active, that’s 50 people to run groups and host meetings. Since all their kids go to the same school, they all live in the local area. This makes meatspace a fine choice for them. It also makes things more social than teh Intrawebnets.

Even with a fully illustrated manual done especially for her she does irritating things such as not providing a decent link text on downloadable documents (just the document name which means nothing!).

Have you put this manual on your website for public viewing? Maybe other people will find it through web searches and share their experiences.

Do you update the Calthorpe site or do they do it themselves via a CMS?

I make all the pages.

Various staff members provide content which goes to Warren Brand, the Assistant Head for Systems & Data. He used to maintain their old website and has been a tireless champion for making it better. He was on board with the accessibility stuff from our 1st meeting.

Each page has its main content in an HTML file. Some PHP is included before and after each file to create the header, breadcrumbs, navigation, sidebar, archive links and footer.

If you update it - do you charge a flat rate per month/year or do you charge by the hour?

Initially for free. But in 2006 Warren decided the time had come to make it a professional arrangement. He even got me backpaid for the work I had done since late 2005. :-)

I’m contracted at a flat rate per week initiall 3 hours per week, which multiples less than what I did. Now it’s 6 hours per week which is often less than I do. It helps fill in what I missed in the early days. It goes through their accounts via the Finance department (about 3 people staff it) with forms and paperwork and stuff.

I am registered as a Sole Trader with Public Liability Insurance valued at £1,000,000 which costs me about £50 per year.