Ark Schools - IT support and safeguarding chatbot

Enabling direct IT support for children and students, making sure they are safe and sound.

Ark Schools

Ark is an education charity that exists to make sure that all children, regardless of their background, have access to a great education and real choices in life.

They started with one school, fourteen years ago but have gone from strength to strength

They’ve always believed that, with the right approach, every school has the potential to succeed - even those in the most challenging circumstances. Nothing should be a barrier to children achieving.

From working with just one school, Ark has since grown into a network of 39 schools in the UK - and is now recognised as one of the highest achieving academy groups in the country.

They still only work in the communities where they can make the biggest difference to children’s lives, and all the schools are non-selective.

Ark are also reknown in the education sector as an innovator and progressive education provider and this is where looking at how a chatbot could work for them came from.

Deluge of support needed to be automated.

Ark, delivered an incredible 40,000 Chromebooks to their children and students when the pandemic forced home based learning. But of course such an increase in remote hardware and software caused a number of issues that they needed to deal with.

40,000 Chromebooks caused a huge IT support challenge, but it should have been for the teaching staff!

The problem, was that the teaching staff across the network of schools became the de facto IT support department, taking up a huge amount of time where they should have been dealing with the remote teaching effort.

So the audience was internal, the children, students and parents that were struggling to get on top of this new device and any problems that might have occurred during onboarding and in day to day operation.

SPArky was born

The team decided that they needed a chatbot to streamline the process of support and answer the most common support questions.

So the choice was a Microsoft Bot framework chatbot that could be deployed inside their own Azure hosted environment for data privacy and ownership.

With a traditional Microsoft QNA bot at the heart of the project, the solution connected to Ark's support desk service and some automation to allow a simple but effective support ticket process to run and be directed to the correct team.

The team at Ark had the autonomy to add new QnAs to SPArky so they could deal with more and more queries.

The team at Ark proactively added new content to the core bot based on the top queries and the 'business as usual' queries that SPArky either did not understand or did not have information about.

So this gave the team a pretty strong first phase chatbot that was deployed on Sharepoint sites within the schools network to allow them to service their internal audience with this private chatbot service.

Safeguarding and knowledge

In picking up the reins of the next stages of SPArky, we have given the team at Ark the tools to expand his knowledge base to include a much wider range of questions and answers. This is driven from the requests and questions that have come from the users across their network of schools.

SPArky is learning more to help the children with a much wider set of queries and keep them safe

One of the main features at this stage is around safeguarding. A vital requirement within a school setting, it has become apparent that many potentially at risk individuals are more comfortable asking questions of SPArky rather than a person. So understanding that journey that a child or student might be going through and making sure that they can be helped is one of the main priorities for SPArky to deal with.

SPArky can grow and flourish

With SPArky already proving to be a solid member of the Ark Schools team. The opportunity to grow and integrate him into more and more processes in the organisation is becoming a reality.

Next steps will include helping with the new intakes that occur every year with onboarding processes and information that is vital and simple to access for this younger generation.

This is whilst maintaining a secure and trusted environment to engage with this information and keep an eye out for those in a cohort who might be struggling.

If you want to find out more about the opportunity to have your own SPArky working inside your education setting, then just get in touch and we can see how your new team member can help you give the best support and environment for learning for your children and students.