Schools embarking on their first website will need to weigh up the pros and cons of buying in professional help for their online debut. On the plus side, a lot less is required of teachers if there is an experienced author to take on the task of planning, creating and publishing a site. Many teachers are more concerned with integrating ICT into their lessons and using computers for day-to-day management tasks than with learning and using html, the language that supports web pages.
If you choose your consultancy well, you will save time and have guaranteed results. The site created by an outside consultancy for Thornton grammar school in Bradford won a design award last year. Browsing established school sites is a good way of finding consultants with the right experience since sites invariably include contact details of authors.
The cons are, predictably, cost and having to live with a site made by someone else. The web is by definition a medium that changes by the second, and unlike school brochures, which often stay the same for years, websites need to be updated frequently, maybe as often as once a week. With so much work required to maintain and update a site, most schools already on the net have decided it makes sense to produce it themselves.
But, there is a middle road. Some companies, such as schools.ik.com, offer schools free authoring using standard templates. The drawback with this is that schools can lose out, with the front end of their site serving the needs of the host site to generate traffic and support e-commerce initiatives.
There is also a temptation to collect the content required to get the site up and running and then forget bout it. School sites based on free, generic templates tend to be the least original, for obvious reasons.
For those deciding to go it alone, a good starting point is the DfEE's Superhighways site, which sets out what schools should and should not put on websites. This advice has changed radically in response to concerns about pupil safety, and more changes may be in the offing. Schools should not rush on to the internet with a website that may need a complete redesign should the goalposts shift.
The internet is awash with tutorials on how to create your own site. What makes a site work is not the individual pages - these are easy to create whether you choose to learn some basic html tags or opt for software that does it for you - but the architecture that links them together.
Sorting out your site's structure and navigation comes first. Becta, the agency for ICT in education, has pointers on helping you on your way, and includes links to other sites that are worth studying and the experiences of teachers who have built school websites from scratch. Becta also has a free CD-Rom with examples of best practice.
Further information:Thornton grammar school:www.thorntongrammar.bradford.sch.ukList of schools with websites:www.angliacampus.comschoolsDfEE Superhighways - guidelines: for developing school websiteshttp:safety.ngfl.gov.ukdocument.php3?D=d27Becta's advice on creating and managing a school website:http:www.becta.org.ukschoolswebsiteawardsTo order Becta's CD-Rom 'Making Web Sites Work' free, email email@example.com and include your name and snail mail address.Schools.ik.com: www.schools.ik.com