We’re in the position now where we’ve got the app we originally wanted, and now we can think about how to develop it as the company grows. It’s a great position to be in, and I’m very pleased that Foxsoft is supporting us with that.

Harley Richardson Chief Product Officer, OxEd and Assessment

OxEd and Assessment provides science-based assessments built on decades’ worth of Oxford University research. One of the tests, LanguageScreen, can quickly and accurately identify language difficulties in children, ages 3½ to 8 years.

The OxEd team wanted to be able to deliver LanguageScreen virtually and hired a dev agency to create a proof of concept. 

These initial results were very promising:

Then, COVID-19 happened, and in a matter of days, the British Department of Education (DfE) found itself needing a digital solution for language assessment and intervention.

The DfE awarded the contract to OxEd. 

What they had considered a research project still in the testing phase was suddenly being used in 10,000 schools across the U.K. As exciting as the new funding was, LanguageScreen’s widespread availability also represented a big challenge. 

OxEd needed to transform into a proper ed-tech company.

To complicate matters, the development company that had been providing support for the proof of concept stepped away from the project.

In December 2020 a mutual acquaintance introduced OxEd to Andy Henson, Foxsoft’s founder and CTO. Foxsoft agreed to tackle the initial stabilization project.

In January 2021, Foxsoft’s Ruby on Rails engineers began digging into the codebase, but what they found wasn’t encouraging: 

After two months of stabilising the app and several more spent attempting to fully rescue it, it became evident that working with the existing code base would cost more time and money than rewriting it from scratch.

A quick aside… Don’t shoot the messenger.

Engineers often need to audit the work of their peers and look for mistakes and weaknesses in logic. They do this internally with teammates and before working on software other people have built. 

When we wrangle unreliable or buggy software, we’re usually dealing with the long-term effects of poorly written or neglected software. Every engineer can’t be in the top 10%, and that means lots of short-sighted architecture and bad code finds gets produced—with the best of intentions. 

Non-technical leaders find themselves in a vulnerable position. They can’t pop the bonnet on the code base and judge quality on their own.

Things get even more challenging when you need to hire a new team. When they tell you the code you paid for is rubbish, do you believe them? Or do you treat what they’re saying as suspect because they’re trying to sell you?

Much of the work for talented, conscientious engineers isn’t building the software but building trust with clients who have already sunk significant resources into software. They’re the ones who have to deliver bad news.

So whether you choose to work with Foxsoft or not, we hope you’ll listen to some advice: Look for software engineers who are painfully honest, and try not to shoot the messenger.

OxEd agreed that it would be better to rebuild the application, but there was a catch.

The new LanguageScreen app needed to go live in early September 2021, the start of the academic year in England. 

The main challenge was feature parity—that is, ensuring that the new app’s functionality mirrored the old one’s. Because the timeline was so tight—less than four months—OxEd had to make compromises and decide which features could wait.

Foxsoft successfully launched the scaled-back version of the new LanguageScreen app by the deadline.

With the pressure of the big deadline gone, the first major step for more predictable and efficient delivery was adding Foxsoft’s project manager, Tas Choudhrey, 

Harley Richardson, OxEd’s Chief Product Officer, got the approvals necessary, and he sees that decision, along with the daily standup meetings as key factors in the project’s success:

“Rather than having five or six different calls a day where we might be saying different things or focusing on different matters, we had one focused time where every day we knew how things were progressing and could contribute at the right time.”

Foxsoft has continued to develop the core application to deliver other assessments. 

They have also provided Product Management support, and Harley noted how Foxsoft has helped to keep OxEd focused on the right things:

“Foxsoft have been brilliant at taking the problems that we’ve been trying to solve and sitting with us and through a process of discussion and refinement boiling it all down to the things that would make the biggest impact.”

OxEd needed more than a vendor.

They needed a true partner to help them zero in on what’s most important: 

“Sometimes we’ve had quite complex ideas, and in the discussion with Foxsoft, we’ve realized, ‘Actually we really don’t need that. This is the bit that’s important.’”

In early 2021, OxEd was a research company with an unstable proof of concept (or, in Harley’s words, “a bit of a disaster”). Now, they’re an established ed-tech company with a national presence and scalable software that is modern, secure, and GDPR compliant. 

By leveraging agile methodology, OxEd has found a sustainable cadence for adding new features and functionality. Project planning and cost estimating are now running ahead of the development team, so the executive team can communicate about costs and make informed business decisions.

Most important of all, kids struggling with language are getting the help they need.

Thousands of students have taken assessments, and their teachers can easily access that data, add their own feedback, and generate reports.

Perhaps the biggest highlight for Harley has been the feedback he’s heard from teachers:

“Never in my time working in Ed Tech, which is 20 years, have I had quite such a positive response to something. It’s been very well received. Universally, I mean, without exception, teachers have said that they find the website very easy to use. These teachers have very demanding jobs and very little time on their hands, so it’s really important that everything is as simple and straightforward to use as possible.”