Tech Pitch: School Guide
School governor and former journalist Victoria Bond explains her motivation for creating a "one-stop-shop" for school data...
Company name: School Guide
Founder: Victoria Bond (44)
Background: Bond is CEO and founder of School Guide and is also a school governor.
Based in: Bath
Very simply, what does your tech start-up do?
School Guide takes official data on 30,000 UK schools and presents it online for parents. Easy to navigate and free to use, it acts as a one-stop shop for school information and cuts through curriculum jargon quickly and easily to helps parents find the best school for their child.
School Guide helps parents to:
- Search for any school in the UK by name, location or postcode
- See key school statistics in a clear visual format
- Get a unique School Guide star rating
- View School Guide league tables and compare schools from all sectors
- Read Trip-Advisor style parent reviews
- See news and photos posted directly by schools on the school noticeboard
Tell us why there’s a need – what do you disrupt?
Prior to our launch, there was no one-stop-shop for school data. It was a real challenge for parents to get the low-down on local schools. They would have to do a lot of homework to gather official data from a variety of websites.
School Guide solves this problem. It pulls together official information from several key sources and puts it in one place, free of charge. Data is collected on 30,000 schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and fed in to School Guide’s unique star rating algorithm to give each school a summary rating from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). This rating gives a clear and easily understood summary of how well each school has performed in the previous year based on official statistics.
Are you funded?
School Guide was seed-funded in its first year of business (2013) by local entrepreneur and owner of Natter.com, Neil Stanley.
We then raised our first round of external investment in March 2014 under the government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) programme which makes it tax efficient for backers to invest in UK start-ups. Two private individuals came forward and enabled School Guide to raise the maximum amount allowed in the first round of SEIS (£150,000).
What were you doing before starting?
After graduating, I spent two years working in Japan as a TEFL teacher (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) and that’s where I gained my first experience of writing reports and tracking pupil progress. In my free time, I also starting working as a journalist on the local equivalent of Time Out magazine, and got the writing bug.
When I returned to the UK, I got my first job at the Independent on Sunday and then moved to the Daily Telegraph where I was ‘yoof’ reporter on a new Saturday supplement for teenagers, T2. I had the opportunity to interview everyone from the Prime Minister to the Spice Girls. I think writing for a younger audience really helped me appreciate that being economic with information can be helpful. From there I went freelance and spent a period section editing at Sunday Times Style as well as several women’s magazines before moving out of London to Bath in 2003 when I had my first son.
My first son was just a few weeks old and I knew nothing about schools apart from that I wanted to live near a good one. started to research local schools and found I had to go to several different websites to get the information I needed and pull all the key data together for myself.
I’d have around 10 tabs open on my browser: exam data from the Department for Education here, Ofsted inspection ratings there. I had to find the school’s location on a map and use a search engine to find its website. At every stage I found endless tables and dense PDFs difficult to decipher. I thought: ‘It really shouldn’t be this difficult to get a snapshot of whether a school is good’. So the idea to build a website to put key school data at parents’ fingertips was born.
What’s the best thing about where you’re based?
I love being based in Bath. Our office is in an old converted Victorian tram shed in the heart of the city and the building is packed with innovative start-ups and tech entrepreneurs. The South West has a growing global reputation as an innovation hotspot and recent international report by McKinsey & Co and Centre of Cities revealed that Bath & Bristol is the largest digital cluster outside of London.
As a lean start-up, we only have a core team of six staff but we are surrounded by so much digital talent that we can operate a ‘distributed team’ and bring in the very best freelancers and consultants as and when we need them. It keeps overheads low; and the quality of development very high. We are also fortunate to have fantastic schools in the city and have strong relationships with many of them. School Guide was built for parents but working alongside schools is key.