All vexing points and in Northants my local schools are awaiting details of the actual cost per school. Breaking it down, I have to concur with GD that the price for the copper (or fibre) isn't everything and working as I do with a number of NH schools, the slice taken from a school's budget to pay for the Synetrix helpdesk is very valuable.
Technology is important and has its price which can vary depending on the service provider selected. What makes technology work well is the bodies with the right skills and experience to run it to the best benefit of the school. All of these variables make the price go up but without them - ask any primary school - and its a big problem.
Not saying 'stay where you are', but simply adding the "management" value-add to the mix.
Though - as the Americans say - YMMV (Your mileage may vary)
As a Governor, I have a legal obligation to ensure that we get best value for OUR school. I legally cannot therefore pay for services that we don't use; even if it is for the good of the whole education system.
My next steps are to ask EMBC/NCC to tell me what services of the package we are using - what our peak bandwith usage has been; whether we use Video Conferencing etc; I am fairly certain that we don't. I have found a company offering 2Mbps filtered uncontended for about £1200 per annum and 10Mbps for £1900 (I am awaiting a formal proposal to check that I am comparing like for like). I will let you know more as I find more.
You may wish to take a look at this paper by the NEN http://www.nen.gov.uk/files/SchoolsB...s-18Sept10.pdf
Explaining what things a school should be looking for. Remember, just because you don't use certain services at this very minute, doesn't mean you won't want them next year or the year after, and moving to and from ISPs at this level would be costly. Our school had no use for Video Conferencing until about 2 years ago when suddenly I was told 'we're going to be doing VC lessons to our feeder schools next term'. Meaning that I had to ensure that both our school and our feeder schools had sufficient connectivity, equipment and infrastructure in place to do it.
If this has involved switching our ISP at short notice, this would have a) cost us a lot and b) likely meant that the target date would've been missed.
Questions such as 'why isn't the school using a VLE?', 'what is our actual bandwidth usage, both upstream and downstream?', 'what is the growth rate of our usage? is it anywhere near the national average of 30 - 50% per annum?', 'does our LEA provide any services via this connection which the new connection won't be able to?' etc...
I'm going to sound like GrumbleDook saying this, but this issue should be approached from an educational point of view and not just a cost point of view. There are many dozens of things to consider when looking at broadband provision.
Contemplating here, besides the obvious ones mentioned previously there are a lot of "subtle" services you get inside the LA/RBC "Intranet" fold that would translate into costs on the outside. For instance all that sensitive-must-be-secured data that gets transferred back and forth between schools and LAs, access to some LA systems etc. Answers like "You could get a VPN sorted out" are a bit simplistic - the security issues in VPN access are complex and it obviously won't be free, or perhaps as functional.'does our LEA provide any services via this connection which the new connection won't be able to?
Wrong question - I would be extremely surprised to find many schools that haven't managed to saturate their link for a sustained period at some point in the last few months.what our peak bandwith usage has been
We have online student testing here in NZ for primary schools with something called eASTTle, which while about a million times better than the bloated carcus (500MB) of a local java app that used to run locally still hammers out connections if a whole class is feeding back information via the flash monstrosity to the MoE hosted server. It easily consumes out 1Mbit/s uplink with just a single class hitting it let alone the downstream which is only saved by timely cacheing by out ISA server. We have tried it without cacheing and after about 5 pupiles it becomes pointless.
To be fair we pay stuff all for out connection but in all seriousness primary schools in NZ at least should have at least a 10 MB semetric connection for basic usage. Anything more and it should be pushed to 100MBit/s. Here for 10mbit down and 1mbit up we pat about NZ$100 a month with filtering provided by software from the MoE. Apparently other NZ schools pay on average NZ$1.06 per student, per month for their internet although this does not provide many of the additional services that are provided as part of an LA network (wanted or not).
Thanks everyone - there is lots of good stuff in here. I agree that it isn't simply a hard cost thing but a question of demonstrating that we are getting value for money, which is a much harder concept than cheapest.
To answer "are we getting value for money?" we need to understand
- What we are getting
- What we value
- What we are using
- What it is costing us
- What the like for like alternatives cost
I am going to try and pull together a questionnaire of that will help us to determine the first 4. Many of your points and suggestions will feature in the questionnaire. I will let you know how I get on.
My observation for Broadband Consortia would be that in the strained economic times, schools are going to want to have more flexibility in the offering - so, if I don't want VC to day, I don't pay for it but if I want it tomorrow, I can add it as a module. If they won't offer this then school governors will do what I am doing and question the value for money. In that we are paying for more service than we need.
I for one applaud you for taking the time and decency to ask for advice on this rather than swinging the hammer uninformed.
As someone who used to run a network within the same RBC as you (albeit Northamptonshire county but still within EMBC), & also a School Governor at the time I did at times question the overall value for money for the services.
We very quickly identified that there were some services we did use (Internet Connection, BECTA Accredited Filtering, & Email) and some we did not use (Video Conferencing (a nice child broke our setup), NEN Resources, Portal/VLE/ish stuff, etc). I think it's very wise to ascertain the cost of the various services but I would be fairly confident in saying the Video Conferencing aspect is very very cheap (if even costing anything at all now in the years after the initial set up / equipment costs). The big cost is going to be the internet connection.
We looked at the cost to bring the Email in house first of all due to some limitations/stability issues on the provision by EMBC during the transition between Fujitsu/Synetrix some time ago and spent a couple of £k setting up a server to do this and sadly this was when I left the school.
We then looked to replace the BECTA Accredited Filtering with a Smoothwall appliance (and I still would do this) as it was a good fit as a replacement but did put the onus on us (the school) to take responsibility for the what if's of a child accessing inappropriate material instead of bouncing it along the chain to the LA/RBC.
Finally, as a school who heavily used our 10mbit/s symmetric 'uncontended' fibre leased line and knowing how much everyone flaps on the odd occasion when it was down we sought a decent ISP who could offer an SLA alongside the connectivity knowing full well I wasn't touching ADSL with a barge pole as bringing services such as Email / VLE into the school itself for hosting I needed more than the tiny amount of bandwidth available on ADSL (even if you bond this with a few more lines you're still miles away from the symmetric uplink speed of the fibre) I contacted folks such as Enta, NetServices, & Easynet as people who can supply 'good' connectivity and found that the start up costs for the fibre were very expensive (and a long lead time).
I then considered the security aspect of the overall situation whereby currently we were protected sufficiently by the router ACLs maintained by Affiniti/Kingston Communications from other schools (and their infections) and then upstream at the RBC firewall I was able to sleep easy knowing it wasn't likely we'd be attacked directly. This of course is irrelevant if you have any externally published systems such as Webservers, Email servers etc though. To procure the service from another provider I would most probably 'lose' the upstream firewall and be left to manage a set up of my own on my router/firewall device which added an extra layer of troubleshooting complexity if something did go wrong. - With the RBC provision I would simply plug a laptop into the router, no internet? Ring the helpdesk and tell them to sort out, no other troubleshooting as the router was theirs, the line theirs and the backend infrastructure theirs.
All in all having spent a few months doing this I was then confronted with the 'politics' of pulling out of such an arrangement with the county as with our harnessing technology grant being top sliced regardless of our involvement we'd lose the money anyway!
We decided ultimately to 'make do' and change only the parts of the system that gave us the most grief (Email) and keep the rest that worked pretty well with a view to ultimately remove the filtering and put in a Smoothwall appliance leaving us really just taking advantage of the economies of scale in procuring a decent internet connection (with resiliency to cope with failure upstream, mirrored data centres etc).
The cost to us at the time was £13k per annum for all of the services we had and it was £13k per annum I wasn't going to see anyway.
Good luck and I am sure with the opinions gained here will help stand you in good stead with your endeavours moving forward.
Do let us know how you get on.
Could I just check whether the following was a typo
Are you in Leicestershire, Leicester or another LA? Remember that each of the LAs deal with funding and payment slightly differently and I don't want to give you the wrong advice or point you in the wrong direction. If you are Northants then I can give you some more specific information.My next steps are to ask EMBC/NCC to tell me what services of the package we are using
As for how the contracts for RBCs run ... most RBCs (the LAs/schools which make them up) are between a rock and a hard place at the moment. On one side you have the OGC and Department (for whatever it is called at the time) telling folk to stop doing short term deals and wasting lots of money doing re-procurement after re-procurement, and that schools need to make use of LA / Regional buying power to get the best deals.
To do that what is purchased tends to be something that is 'almost' suitable for everyone, but might not fit everyone ... and yes, that then raises the question about why you are paying for services you are not using. Remember that the above mentioned pressure on procurement means signing deals for 3-5 years ... in that time a school could change all its governors, the Head, swap who is the ICT Co-ordinator, change the schemes of work, have things like National Strategy re-written ... all of which might mean changing what the school needs. So, what is purchased for schools is something that is flexible enough to be able to do *everything* a school wants, allow it to run in-house systems without being told "No!" (the fact that some LAs might do that is not always the fault of RBCs or even individual LA staff) ... and remember that during procurement there will have been involvement from schools.
One of the problems with having a barebones system (at a cheaper price) and then having modules you can add-on when you want them (usually as a framework agreement with one or multiple suppliers), is that this can push up the individual price. When you sit down and look at the individual cost and then look at what it costs for 50% of schools to make use of it ... if you go for the per school price and 50% of schools take it up ... then you could work out paying more. It is a hard balancing act and the more schools who get involved in the procurement to give their input the better IMHO.
You then get into the problem of the fact that this is a 5 year contract ... and for lots of schools to pull out part way through it puts things in jeopardy for other schools.
I do understand the need to look at what is best for your school, but when you consider the sharing of educational resources ... if every schools said "sod off ... I'm not sharing" then the whole of education would be a whole heap worse off. Setups like TeachMeets, VITAL, NorthantsBLT are all based around people sharing without getting precious about one school taking a bit more than others ... heck ... EduGeek follows the same principles.
I would also consider asking the following questions.
- Does this give me access to shared educational resources?
- Are there other schools this will allow me to collaborate with?
- Is there a 'political' factor which needs to be considered to taking a collegiate approach?*
I am biased about operating in a collegiate and collected manner, whether as a cluster, an area, an LA or a region.
*In my last school we moved from NTL (as it was then) to EMBC to have a greater connection with the LA, one of a number of things which resulted in more positive support when applying to LSC for funding for buildings.
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