Chetham’s School of Music

Chetham’s School of Music (pronounced Cheetham’s) is a prestigious music school in the centre of Manchester. They operate as a boarding school and teach both music to a high level and standard academic subjects.

Chetham’s contacted us with a bespoke software requirement.

They had already written an in-house web based software system to manage the specialised scheduling of their music timetable, which was not something they could easily schedule with traditional school timetabling software as there were a number of interesting structures/events that their in-house system managed including concerts, ensembles, single student staggered lessons etc.

Chetham’s wanted us to re-develop their in-house system, speed it up if possible, add some new features, and perform further development work after that.

During our initial meeting, it became clear that Chetham’s were using the popular Capita SIMS specialised school software for a large number of school functions including the scheduling of academic lessons.

This left them with two timetables for the students; one for academic lessons from SIMS, and one for music lessons from their in-house software. We quickly identified an opportunity to unify the two timetables, which was greeted enthusiastically by the management team, suggesting that it would be their “holy grail” if that could be achieved as part of our bespoke software solution.

The final brief was to re-develop their in-house system to:

  • Provide a faster experience for the users.
  • Provide a responsive user interface for use on modern devices such as tablets and mobile phones.
  • Develop some additional functionality where needed.
  • Integrate with their existing network structure and user accounts.
  • If possible, integrate the two timetables so that the students can see both their music and academic lessons in one timetable.

During development our two main challenges were:

  1. To develop the new bespoke music timetabling/scheduling software in such a way that it significantly outperformed the existing in-house system in terms of information retrieval time. Speed improvements are not often a magic bullet. There can sometimes be a number of small improvements which can be made which all add up to an overall improvement, and this was the case here. The greatest improvement in record retrieval time was found when dealing with lesson clashes. This was achieved by embedding indicator flags within the data to show clashing lesson information, rather than using additional calculations and joins to find out this information during retrieval. Because each lesson could clash with more than one other lesson, this flag needed to be a counter rather than a binary on/off flag. Finally triggers were used within the database to manage these flags as lessons were added, removed and rescheduled.
  2. To retrieve and display the Capita SIMS data in to our new graphical student timetable. Pulling in the academic lesson data from the Capita SIMS software was achieved via a second database connection and selecting the appropriate data from database views that had been set up for this purpose. Some minor adjustments to the data on retrieval was then all that was necessary to bring the academic timetable information in to our bespoke student timetable so that the students only needed to look at one unified timetable for both academic and music lessons/activities.

We were pleased to deliver all of this, and Chetham’s plan to develop their in-house system further with us.


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