The brief

The NEU came to us in May 2020 with an ambitious brief to “create a School Cuts style map to inform members and parents of the risk posed by coronavirus in their school.”

The aim was to use government data to engage and inform members about the real risks posed by COVID-19 in school.

Initially, the aim was mostly to reassure people that the infection level of coronavirus was very low in almost all areas. However, the scope and focus of the situation changed as the threat of a second wave became more evident, and the government failed to take appropriate action to reduce the spread or provide clear messaging to the public. This meant we moved away from solely presenting clear and unbiased information towards including a call to action asking users to email their MP and put pressure on the government to make schools as safe as possible.

Our solution

The site allows users to find a school by name, postcode or location, using typeahead to present search options to users as they type.

School COVID Map homepage

Through a number of design iterations and two rounds of user testing, we settled on the layout for a school card that you see below.

Machester Academy School Card

The data shows, on a weekly basis, the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 and the latest  trend – whether increasing or decreasing from the previous week. It shows the watchlist status of the local authority area with a link to any local restrictions that are in place. This watchlist status was of course soon replaced by the 3 tiers system, and the site was swiftly updated to reflect this change.

One of the challenges was to show figures that were meaningful in the context of a school, and since there is no data for a catchment area (understandably!), we settled on a figure for the local district or borough and one that totals the number of cases in the neighbouring areas (MSOA) around the school.

We also standardised the presentation of these figures to cases per 100,000 to match the general public health discourse and added tooltips that provided additional help to users without needing to leave the card and read the full methodology.

The site enables users to request:

The Tech

Frontend: Vue.js with Nuxt.js framework

Backend: Node with Express API

Data: PostgreSQL database; PostGIS extension for geography data

Infrastructure: all infra is AWS; web servers are on ECS; database is on RDS; CDN is CloudFront

DevOps: Docker for containerisation; deployed by GitLab pipelines to ECS via ECR

Prior to launch we load tested the application with Artillery Pro, a self-hosted load testing solution. We ran tests against different hardware resource configurations. This was necessary to ensure that the site would be able to cope with high usage after press releases and mailouts.

After initial launch traffic died down, we scaled back to approximately one-third of the original launch resources, in order to reduce costs.

It was built with accessibility in mind and can be navigated entirely with only the keyboard.

The Approach

We worked in a series of one-week sprints to enable us to be as adaptive as possible as we worked from design prototyping through to launch in 6 weeks. Our first step was to discuss the desired aim with the NEU team, then revise the data and explore the technical challenge of updating it weekly, and quickly move to lightweight and intuitive design.

We conducted 2 rounds of user testing with teachers and union reps that had a massive impact on the direction of the project and really helped us to present the data in the clearest possible way. We always encourage a quick round of testing before our sites are released to the wider world – it allows us to ensure that we are bringing value to the users as well as providing some insight into how they interact with the tool.

The Impact

We’re incredibly proud to deliver another close collaboration with the NEU. They have reported several individuals highlighting the usefulness and ease of the site, when reliable and consistent information is otherwise difficult to access. In addition:


“The NEU School Covid Map presents up to date information on the Covid rate in every part of England. This website will support public health messaging everywhere. We believe it has the clearest information. We hope that it will encourage ongoing conversations about school safety, and how everyone can play their part.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union