Accipio + Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing: Highly commended Totara project

Highly commended award | Totara | Learning platform

Supporting ISTD to deliver of over 150,000 examinations per year | Revolutionising the working methods of an Examination board.

For more than 100 years the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) has provided training for dance teachers. With approximately 7,000 members in over 65 countries worldwide, ISTD conducts over 150,000 examinations each year. They have been listed by Ofqual as one of the top 20 largest awarding organisations in England and are in the top five for delivery of performing arts examinations. They selected us at Accipio for the provision of a Totara online learning platform.

The Challenge

For many years student teachers have submitted their work to the ISTD in the form of paper-based portfolios. This was posted to London via Royal Mail from the UK and Europe. It was fraught with issues in terms of cost and efficiency. The system was cumbersome, laborious and expensive with issues such as missing portfolios and late submissions. Assessors were required to attend London Headquarters to mark work four times a year for several days resulting in costs of over £15,000. As an international organisation, assessors flew in from Italy and Greece. It was time for change.


In addition, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, examinations were conducted in person where an examiner would watch a teacher delivering lessons. Health and safety risks and government restrictions around social distancing and travel meant that this was no longer possible. ISTD had to rapidly pivot to online examinations and required a solution where dance teachers could record/live stream their lessons and upload to an assessment platform for marking. They needed an end-to-end video sharing solution integrated into their learning platform.

What we did

Working with ISTD, we delivered their new teaching qualification - the Diploma in Dance Education (DDE) - ‘online’ with end-to-end assessment through a 21st century Totara learning platform. It also developed a sense of community for teachers, and enabled Approved Dance Centres (ADCs) and tutors to easily access reports, the latest teaching resources and guidance about how to structure learning.


We digitalised many manual processes (especially assessment), and integrated other platforms (e.g. legacy Moodle) into one Totara site.


Key features of the project included:

  • Multi-tenancy allowing dance centres to manage, assess and support their own students;
  • Automated end-to-end onboarding process;
  • End-to-end video integrated solution with upload, sharing and streaming/transcoding facility enabling teachers to be assessed by upload large video files which examiners could view via a built-in player and assess directly in Totara during the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • Personalised and adaptive delivery for different types of users with different pathways and dashboards for foreign language students and detailed real-time reporting;
  • Accessibility considerations;
  • Multi-language site;
  • Support building interactive and engaging e-modules; and
  • Plagiarism tracking.

The results

The introduction of Totara has revolutionised ISTD’s working methods and driven them forward to dip into the possibilities of online learning and assessment. This was a major change for ISTD as a society in terms of mindset and processes, and Accipio has worked closely with ISTD to design, instruct and guide them through every step of the way. Understanding how they work and giving them options has enabled them to create an individualised platform for their tutors and centres. The site has had over 700,000 page views since the start of the year.

The impact for the examination board has been huge:

Freedom to Save

  • Costs have been cut dramatically, and ISTD is now able to invest further in content development rather than assessment. Travel costs alone have been reduced by over £15,000 per annum;

Freedom to Innovate

  • End-to-end video solution with Totara integration enabling examinations to continue during the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • Assessors now mark remotely, and ISTD no longer stores paper-based portfolios;
  • It has improved efficiency and streamlined systems through automation (using dynamic rules), and provided detailed reporting for ISTD and ADCs so they can track progress and support users;
  • ISTD are now building upon their digital strategy and looking at other areas of digital and online development.

Freedom to Learn

  • Teachers have access to contemporary and up-to-date online learning resources 24/7;
  • Teachers, tutors and centres can share material; therefore creating better communication and enabling centres to be more informed about their teachers and their progress;
  • Can update and adapt information regularly ensuring that resources are current and supporting the needs of students and teachers;

Freedom of Choice

  • ISTD previously had a Moodle platform to deliver a narrow set of resources. They were able to select a Totara partner with specific Moodle experience who could migrate all resources into a single Totara platform which is increasingly being used across the business.

Client quotes

“Accipio have been exceptional from conception through design until delivery. Without their ‘hand holding’ and confidence in our ability to achieve, we may not have been able to do what we wanted to do. They worked with us to create a bespoke model that can develop and build over time. Totara has enabled us to create a community and to support our students and teachers with their learning and assessment.” – Louise Molton, Director of Education


“Our work with Accipio is the start of our online and digital processes. The ISTD aspires to be a world leader in dance education, setting the benchmark for best practice through our extensive syllabi and teacher training. We recognise that we have made the first steps into creating a Learner Management System, and that it is the start of a long and exciting journey for us – one that will continue to challenge us. Thank you to Accipio for helping us to make this transition and for supporting us through this process.”


“The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing is committed to becoming a dynamic, future-focused organisation that promotes the social, cultural, physical and educational benefits of dance for all.  To build on past success, we recognise the need to improve business performance through digitisation of services.  The learning platform Accipio has helped us create is an excellent start to this journey – paving the way for us to broaden access to our teacher training programmes and thereby strengthen our international presence.”
– Ginny Brown, CEO, ISTD