Ark schools, various homepages
Stakeholder engagement & research
User Experience
CMS customisation
Drupal Website
Web guidelines
Schools and MATs
Educational charities

Ark needed to rebuild their portfolio of 39 school websites with the needs of their users in mind – primarily parents of present and future pupils. The CMS needed to allow local control of localised content, but also support the central roll-out of content across all sites when necessary, at the click of a button. 

Ark is a network of academy schools in the UK. An education charity, Ark is recognised as one of the highest achieving academy groups in the country. ​

IE Digital customised the Drupal CMS and built a specific hosting environment for the sites in Pantheon. The result is 39 identical-but-different websites, all uniquely branded but united around a single digital content strategy.


Visit the Ark Globe Academy website 

Ark Globe hompeage
Ark parent looking at What's On section
Understanding the requirements

To support Ark’s new strategy, the schools network needed to strengthen its engagement with key audiences. They needed to communicate more effectively online, so the school websites had a big part to play.

It was important that each school could control its own content at the local level. Equally, the central team needed to own certain content for consistency across the whole group. They wanted the functionality to publish urgent announcements across all sites in an emergency, leaving the local teams free to focus on the children in their care.

Audience research 

IE’s digital consultants first needed to understand the needs of each audience. This involved a complex stakeholder engagement exercise to juggle the politics – inherent with such a large and complex organisation – with the needs of the ultimate users. 

We conducted research with parents to explore what they need from their school’s website. We looked at their user journey from the very beginning, selecting a school for their child, and throughout their child’s journey with Ark. 

We workshopped the requirements with parents, school governors, and staff responsible for managing content for the websites. We heard first-hand where the old websites weren’t up to scratch. The content was overcrowded, the content management system was difficult to use, and the sites performed poorly for search engine optimisation. The old system was difficult to use, with a ‘one size fits all’ approach and no flexibility to customise the sites. 

These were all problems we needed to address in the design process. 

Accessibility and a mobile-first approach were also important considerations. We also had to meet certain minimum requirements in terms of the content required by the UK schools regulator, Ofsted. 

Ark Tindal shown on tablet
Ark Globe Academy on tablet and brochure
Designing content management

Each of the school websites would be relatively simple, but having 39 different ones created quite a complex challenge. 

IE’s digital team worked with our hosting partners, Pantheon, to identify an approach that would meet Ark’s needs. We found a tried-and-tested model that was already in use across some county schools in the US. 

This allowed IE Digital to manage all 39 websites from a central pattern, and easily add new school sites by duplicating an existing one. 

Central and local content management 

IE developed a bespoke system within the Drupal CMS to accommodate Ark’s specific content management needs. 

The central team can create and push content to each of the 39 schools from a central CMS. The content editor ticks individual schools – or groups according to their region or type – to publish the content across their chosen sites. They can choose to fix the content, or allow each school to tweak their content locally to suit their needs.

This system allows for Ark-wide policy to be updated on all school sites in a matter of minutes. National news and events only need to be published once, but can be modified if certain locations need more tailored messaging.

For everything else, the individual schools can control their own content. 

Parent looking on Ark website
Flexible design and build

Based on the findings from our stakeholder workshops, we designed wireframes for the key pages and processes involved on school websites. Then our designers storyboarded the site based on the defined user journeys. 

When designing the user experience, we prioritised the needs of parents and carers, either with children already in the school or those looking for their child’s next school. We also took secondary audiences such as governors and staff into account.

Web guidelines

With schools in the network ranging from nursery up to sixth form, each website needed to reflect their distinctive characters and the communities they serve.  Flexibility was crucial, to allow full customisation with a school’s logo and brand colour palette. 

Ark has a fantastic library of bespoke photography at its disposal. The website design brings this photography to the forefront, allowing further customisation of each school site. Genuine school environments, colourful uniforms, and pupils and staff from diverse backgrounds come together to highlight each school’s unique personality.

Consistency and accessibility were also important. We created a set of web guidelines to show good practice and help schools to make the right choices in terms of good colour contrast, for example. 

Further customisation

Each local website is further personalised to the school, with the integration of social media feeds. They also integrate with certain recruitment systems to support job applications from prospective staff.

IE Digital supported Ark very closely to ensure the first few websites went live without a hitch. Ark All Saints and Ark Tindal Primary Academy were the first sites to be fully populated with content, tested and go live. 

Ark guidelines
Ongoing maintenance and growth

The flexible template design makes it easy for schools to grow their web presence as they grow their school. And if the Ark family grows further, they can easily add new school websites. It takes around an hour to spin up a new school site, all tailored to its own unique branding. 

IE Digital hosts and supports each of the websites in our Pantheon environment. Code and configuration updates are automatically tested for any unexpected visual change. The updates only need manual testing on one of the sites before the team updates all schools within minutes.

Ark All Saints on an iPad
Ark Nursery, mother looking on phone
39 individual school websites delivered and hosted
1 hour to spin up a new school site with custom branding