Website usability testing: school closures

In November we carried out some website usability testing with a group of Warwickshire Parents. We set three common tasks to do with school closures as this time of year we have a lot of website traffic looking for related information.

The set tasks were:

  1. School closures – Find whether you school is closed for the day.
  2. School term dates – Find your schools holiday dates for the winter period.
  3. Gritting – Find whether your route to school is on a gritting route.

Outcomes and improvements

The results from the sessions highlighted some areas of improvement for the website, some quick fixes and others that would require a bit more development.

School closures

To begin with, the web page was difficult to find. From the home page, most users clicked on “schools” under find it and struggled from there, as this took them to the “find a school” page.

  • To make the home Changed link from “Schools” to “Find a school” on the homepage
  • A link straight to this page is included on the experimental new home page

Some people would search for the schools website first, not all schools websites would publish this information.

  • We could develop a widget which could be configured for each school. The data for the widgets would be a central source controlled by us, therefore all the schools would have to do is include the widget on their website. This requires further investigation and possible development.

People may find the schools entry in the school finder, yet their is no information on their entry about school closures.

  • We are currently investigating replacement for the current Schools Database, which holds the information about each school. The replacement will be a lot more flexible with the information we can put on in. We could include the widget as per above.
  • School holiday dates could also be on these pages

The list of closed schools does not show up on the main school closure page, there is an extra click to see the actual list.

  • The reason it is set up this way is because of the amount of web-traffic this list of schools can get after heavy snowfall etc. It is currently set up separately  therefore heavy traffic to this page wont affect the the availability of the rest of the website. As an alternative, the school closure twitter feed has been added to the page so visitors can see the latest updates on the school closures page.

Visitors missed the option to sign up for SMS/text alerts, they didn’t look that far down the page and it wasn’t obvious what to click on.

  • The SMS sign up text has been re-formatted with appropriate headings and links, to make it more obvious how to sign up and renew text alerts.

Map of closed schools

  • Another idea was to embed a map showing the closed schools. This would require a bit of development so one for the future.

School holiday dates

People found the holiday dates page very easily using a link from the home page. Also the information on the page was clear enough for users to be able to complete their tasks. However there were a few areas noted for improvement

Holiday dates could be wrong e.g for academies or schools which set different holiday dates.

  • We have a caveat on the page letting people know that some schools set their own term dates. For future developments of the schools database, this could be made clear on each school page.

Drop down option to select school to return holiday dates

  • This is something we could develop when the new schools database is up and working. we thing it would be a useful addition.

Teacher training days spreadsheet is not entirely user friendly

  • This is currently presented as a Microsoft spreadsheet, which is not accessible for users without the correct software installed. We are currently looking into the best way of hosting this spreadsheet on-line so everyone can access it.


Tests showed that the page was very difficult to find and information on the page was not clear

  • We have added a link on the main “Roads” navigation page so people can find this page eaiser
  • On the new experimental homepage, there is a direct link to gritting

The maps are on PDFs, which were difficult to find and even more difficult to actually use.

  • We have plotted the gritting routes onto a Google map and embeded on the page. This is much easier to use than the PDF versions of the map.

Maps are currently half way down the page, underneath statistics and other information, was not obvious to users they were there.

  • We have moved the maps up the page and supporting information now sits underneath.

Wasn’t obvious which maps were stored where (e.g. Kenilworth is under the Warwick drop down)

  • We have renamed the headings to reflect the District or Borough of the area, therefore users know to select their local council heading when looking for maps.

The large PDF of Warwickshire gritting routes was pretty much useless when trying to zoom in as the detail was lost.

  • This map is now below the more functional Google map

Some of the terminology – e.g. subscribe via RSS, wasn’t understood

  • The text has been re-written in plain english.

Google search for Warwickshire Gritting Routes returned an result with a “Gritting” sub link – this went to an old unused system which does not work anymore

  • We have removed this old system and should now no longer show up in search results.

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