Broadband in Schools

15/07/2010
Squawk

Broadband development in schools

The coalition government’s political direction towards local decision-making and more freedom for schools, together with the economic realities of reducing budgets, is causing us to re-examine the value of all services.  The recent announcement of a reduction of 50% in the Harnessing Technology grant available this financial year puts ICT in schools at the forefront of this consideration.

For more than ten years local authorities across the south east region have collaborated to procure broadband services for schools.  This combination of national strategies, regional aggregation and local buy-in has enabled high-quality broadband services to be developed that have supported a wide range of new approaches to learning and school administration. 

The raising standards of broadband provision have been well documented.  Becta has produced at least three supporting documents that are still available to read from their website:

 

And the National Education Network Publication: Building a Broadband Entitlement (NEN Media, 2009) is also full of information.

 

These are the broadband standards that schools have come to expect.  Standards that, in summary assure:

  • A tight integration of educational policy with operational delivery, e.g. e-Safety;
  • Removal of risk from schools, in terms of procurement and contract management;
  • Financially stable suppliers;
  • Economies of scale;
  • Understood escalation policies that protect individual schools from supplier indifference;
  • Access to wholesale prices for telecommunications;
  • Capacity, quality and reliability;
  • Access to additional services such as remote backup and support;
  • Immediate and knowledgeable advice from a dedicated broadband service desk;
  • Confidence that broadband will always be available.

And standards are still rising.  These days, we talk about ‘single sign on’ and personalised access from any device anywhere and at any time.  Connections speeds have risen to 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps and are available 99.9% of the time.  Over 80% of teachers report using ICT to research, prepare and teach their lessons? (Becta 2010) and many teachers have never taught without the expectation of reliable online services connected to laptops and interactive whiteboards. 

Every school, whatever its location, has available a high-quality service at an agreed price formula.  Purchased individually, some schools may save but many would pay up to three times as much or not be able to purchase a suitable service at all. 

There can be no doubt that economic realities at the moment are a threat to the development of ICT in schools but the rhetoric about local bureaucracy and schools ‘going it alone’ may be an even bigger threat.  Schools Forums across the region have listened to the arguments for an aggregated procurement of broadband infrastructure and services and made the decision to support this collaborative approach.  In that way, all schools have become connected and all schools are making savings over commercial equivalents.  On average these savings are about £3,900 for each Primary School and £7,500 for each Secondary School.  Who really believes that all schools can get better and cheaper elsewhere?

Perhaps the biggest threat here is not to our pockets but to our values? If some school take advantage of their size and location to opt out and if some smaller schools choose lesser services that are not fit for purpose but are cheaper, our universal offer will fragment, learners will suffer and the system will end up paying more.

There are some services that cost more to lose than they cost to keep.  Broadband Services are among them.  We should hold our nerve and think very carefully of the impact upon all learners before encouraging schools to seek alternative provision.

 

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