Tips on Building a School Web Site: Wandesforde School

One of the parents from Wandesforde School asked me to have a look at the web site she designed for them this year.  Wandesforde School is a small three teacher school in Castlecomer in Co. Kilkenny.  Strangely enough, I know the school very well as I gave summer courses in it for two years.  The principal at the time had mentioned that she was looking at updating their web site and a few years later, this was the result.

Before I begin, I must reiterate that I am not a web designer and would never claim to be.  However, I do believe that a school’s web site should reflect what is  inside the school walls.   I think that a school web site should provide two things: a brochure and a portfolio of the school.  The brochure part of the site should contain all the information about the school and all the things that make it the school that it is.  It should also look well to showcase the school in the best light.  The portfolio should be a constantly evolving showcase of all the work that is going on in the school.  This should be the part that contains the children’s own work, projects, awards and achievements.  It should be far from static and the more it changes, the more dynamic the school appears.

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Wandesforde School’s web site is designed in WordPress.  Wordpress is a very popular tool for creating dynamic web sites.  Originally designed for blog design, WordPress can now be used to make complete Content Management Systems and is renowned for being really easy to use.  Scoilnet’s School Sites use WordPress as their back end so schools may be familiar with it.
The first thing one notices about the web site is the bright, bold colour scheme, which is consistent throughout.  The red reflects the colour of the uniform of the school.  I’m not sure if they are aware but the GAA Football team’s jersey is a blue colour and their hurling team is green and white.  These colours are also reflected in the colour scheme.  The scheme is easy on the eye and easy to read.  The font chosen is Arial, which is also soft on the eye.
The most immediate thing to look at on this busy web site is the introduction message which shows a number of images of life in the school.  It also contains a short summary of the school and its location.  The photographs highlight sport, charity work and fun.
There are two unique menu systems on the front page with lots of information. In total there are 46 different navigation points.  They are generally well divided out so that there is never too much in any one section.  However, the risk of doing this is that one will have to keep 46 different areas fresh.  While the school are doing an excellent job of keeping class work up to date, there are already some areas that have not been updated in a few months.  Perhaps joining together some of the categories might help in this matter and reduce the workload for the staff.
There are some interesting items on the web site that are unusual for a school site.  Firstly, there is a “testimonials” page where people have left positive comments about the school.  I think this is a great idea.  I also like the Frequently Asked Question (FAQ), which answers the most commonly asked questions.  Often this is placed in an “About Us” section but I think it probably deserved a unique place on the site.
The side menu contains lots of links to important parts of the school including sports, classwork, the various subjects taught, achievements and special occasions.  I found the menu system a little tricky to get used to but it is cleverly designed to expand and retract when you roll the mouse over it.
The other side of the front page is used for two reasons.  Firstly, the “stars of the week” showcases the children in the school who have behaved well or did something out of the ordinary.  This is something I do in my own school.  Just a word of warning though, it might be a good idea to blank out the names of the children on the certificates for obvious reasons.
Underneath this is the school’s latest news.  It appears that this section highlights important news in the school unrelated to the everyday going-ons.  Perhaps a change of title to something like “Important Notices” would give it more of an important feel.  Otherwise, it has the danger of blending in with the rest of the news on the web site.
Back on the left hand side of the page, there is a good search bar, which is accurate and blends in well with the web site.  One can also look through the archives of the site to see what was going on any time in the past.  This could prove to be a useful tool for history in the future.  Finally, one can subscribe to the web site through email.  This means that every time the web site is updated, the subscriber receives an email.  The school also utilises an RSS feed.

The very top of the web site is beautifully designed.  The logo to the left, a simple typeface for the school name, followed by an image of this very pretty school add up to an attractive header to the school.
Overall, this Castlecomer school is a very well designed and busy web site.  It is well structured and contains buckets of information.  It is easy to see that the school is a very active place with great emphasis on sports and drama.  Congratulations to Lorna who designed the web site and to the staff and pupils who are keeping it well updated.  It’s also nice to see the interaction through comments on the site, which involved parents and the whole community of Castlecomer.
For those of you creating a school web site, here are a number of interesting features of this school’s web site, you may wish to explore:

  • A Frequently Asked Questions section
  • A Testimonials section
  • Colour Scheme matching uniform and town’s GAA colours
  • Pupils of the Week (award) highlighted on web site


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