Update November 9th 2012
The information below has been superceded by the events of October 31st / November 1st.
If you have found this page, then you may be experiencing problems with internet access, email or both. Maybe we can help you.
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Replacing the Regional Broadband
Nearly 1 year ago I wrote a blog post highlighting what I thought were major changes in ICT in Education. Since then we have had many requests from schools asking for alternatives to EMBC (the local Regional Broadband Supplier).
Systems and Education could, technically, provide a cost-effective (and effective) replacement for schools’ internet supply.
Recently we had a discussion with a family of schools where we had a detailed look at the tasks and challenges with providing an EMBC replacement to schools.
The comments and observations shared with the group provide a simplified and general overview of areas to think about if looking to change.
This is one of the most important aspects to have working accurately and efficiently. Schools are like many organisations, in that e-mail is one of their most important applications.
School users may not be aware that approximately 95% of all email destined for the .sch.uk email domains inside EMBC is blocked at ‘the border’. It is blocked because it is regarded as spam, pornography, contains potential viruses and for many other reasons. All schools need filtering power to match this.
In addition, the school needs a way to understand which emails have been blocked and why. This will enable them to release genuine emails which have been flagged as inappropriate. (A real life example – a job application to a primary school was blocked as it contained a ‘naughty’ word – the electronic form by the council included the question Gender (sex)).
A robust, powerful and flexible mail filtering system is required – and one that does not use huge amounts of school bandwidth, nor place excessive strain on school servers.
ADSL vs SDSL
Schools currently have 2Mb or 4Mb SDSL lines. This means that the same speed is available for uploading data to the internet as downloading data from the internet. One of the reasons for the upload requirement is the extensive use of VLEs – which was forecast, paid for but has rarely happened. As the Harnessing Technology Grants have been withdrawn and primary schools may now being re-charged for VLEs, then their usage is likely to decline.
The schools need to look at their own situations and evaluate whether ADSL or SDSL are appropriate. ADSL is the type of connection many people have at home and gives faster download speeds than upload speeds. This is less costly than SDSL and may be appropriate.
Many teachers find the methodology of the filtering provided by EMBC to be inconvenient and complex. Schools are provided with a blanket filter level and teachers can then log into their own EMBC accounts to provide a reduced level of filtering for 30 minutes per session. (Schools may opt for ‘local control’ which is strongly recommended against by EMBC for primary schools).
At standard level filtering for KS1 (level 4) Google search engine is not available. Unless you are logged in as an adult (level 1) Youtube pages are not available. This means that the home page for the Department for Education will not display correctly unless the teacher logs in to EMBC.
Filtering solutions are available which base the filtering on the actual log in to the school network and provide local administrator control to allow authorised school staff and designated support personnel to quickly release or block specific sites.
The schools need access to Local Authority resources within ‘the firewall’. This is provided within EMBC but is an extra charge for schools outside ‘the firewall’.
There are many further considerations when looking at such a change. This web page will be updated with links and additional information, so please check back.
What is your school situation? Does the cost of broadband look like fair value for money?
The government said changes were to “allow… schools to reconfigure their broadband and IT infrastructure projects onto a more sustainable funding model” – are you?