Connectivity (Broadband) Standards
- Part of:
- Education Digital Standards
The requirements for a school broadband connection are very different from those at home, whether this is a small school with less than 100 pupils or a large school with over 1000 pupils.
Schools’ requirements are based on curriculum delivery, and the administrative and operational needs of the school, which all represent very different usage patterns.
The Standards below provide you with the core principles when selecting broadband provision for your school.
The PSBA (Public Sector Broadband Aggregation) Network has been designed to deliver reliable, unlimited, high speed internet to large organisations with large scale demands like schools and is used by public services across the whole of Wales
It has various value-added services, such as cyber security controls built in, which schools will need to directly fund and maintain should they choose another broadband provider.
Welsh Ministers and local authorities have invested significant funding in the PSBA network to provide an efficient, reliable and scalable network of maximum value for the Welsh public sector. If a school believes there is justification to move away from PSBA, they must outline their case to the local authority and Welsh Government officials before any decision is taken to ensure that appropriate consideration has been given to each area of the standard as well as safeguarding the school and its learners.
Please refer to the PSBA website for full details on what is contained within the SLA and the nature of the value-added services it entails.
Please see Planning and Management Guidance for more information.
PSBA is a private fully-managed network that offers peering and interconnection benefits to other schools and education institutions (e.g. Further Education Institutions), local authorities and others that commercial providers may not deliver. Examples include high-speed resilient access to Hwb which results in a more responsive experience when using the platform.
As a managed service PSBA will proactively monitor for faults and manage telecommunication companies to fix any problems with your school’s connection.
PSBA has a number of cyber security controls in place to protect schools’ traffic and end users. These include measures such as:
- Blue Coat content filtering (granular web application access control and filtering);
- DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack mitigation;
- Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) filtering on schools’ network traffic to block illegal web-content; and
- Firewall protection between the peered network and the wider internet.
As of June 2018, PSBA includes a centralised web-filtering service (Smoothwall) within its Service Catalogue. Through aggregated purchasing of licenses PSBA can deliver value, improve ease of management and reduce costs of running your own web-filtering service.
PSBA also offers a direct, secure connection to local authority education systems (e.g. SIMS returns; ALN information). If you use another Internet provider, you may need to implement a secure connection from your school, across the Internet and back into your local authority systems. This may incur additional costs or introduce technical complexities that are not required when using PSBA as local authorities are part of the same connection.
PSBA is the most cost-effective solution for schools to best meet their digital needs. It is accepted that schools operate with limited resources and that head-teachers and governors face challenges in justifying why PSBA is the best solution in the face of attractively priced offerings from some providers. However, there are many value-added benefits delivered as part of the PSBA service that are lacking from commercial provider offerings.
Should you decide to use another provider to deliver Internet access for your school, you must ensure that they offer you the same level and quality of protection as PSBA. Many commercial providers do not always offer these additional controls which are part of the standard PSBA service, or if they are offered, may incur additional charges.
This service provides the same download and upload speeds, and means you do not share the connection with others.
There are other broadband services available (for example: Fibre-to-the-Premises) but unless you have low learner numbers (under 50) or the symmetrical uncontended service is not available in your area, these are unsuitable for school use due to their limited capability.
The majority of schools in Wales already have a symmetrical uncontended fibre-optic service PSBA connection capable of up to 100Mbps or 1Gbps delivered via dedicated Openreach fibre EAD (Ethernet Access Direct) circuits.
EAD circuits provide high-bandwidth connectivity to schools backed up with strict Service Level Agreements to guarantee performance. Fibre-optic based services are critical for requirements including cloud computing (Hwb), simultaneous online pupil access in classrooms and Storage Area Network connectivity.
Symmetrical uncontended fibre-optic services offer high capacity and resilience, and the ability to be easily upgraded to meet future requirements (such as increased pupils on roll; greater demand for online resources, cloud services; BYOD; etc.), making them ideal for the use of applications and services based in the Cloud e.g. Hwb.
A symmetrical service is important when using online and cloud services, as you will get the same transfer speed when uploading data as you get when downloading data.
This service is uncontended, meaning you have full access to the bandwidth available, rather than sharing what you have with neighbouring buildings. This means the performance of your connection is less likely to be impacted by other, non-school, users.
Other services are available, but those may not offer you the benefits described above and, as a result, you may find that they are unsuitable for use by your school.
Fibre-to-the-Premise (FttP) services are asymmetric and delivered over fibre from a local street cabinet (sometimes referred to as a green cabinet) via a shared contended connection back to the exchange. The service you received has a higher downstream bandwidth than upstream bandwidth and is shared on a competing basis with neighbouring properties. FttP services are advertised as being capable of delivering up to 300Mbps downstream and 30Mbps upstream, but the actual guaranteed speed is significantly less and can be as low as 80 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.
Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FttC) services are asymmetric and delivered over a pair of copper cables, from the ‘green’ street cabinet. The service you receive has a higher downstream bandwidth than upstream bandwidth and is shared on a competing basis with neighbouring properties. FttC services are advertised as being capable of delivering up to 80Mbps downstream and 20Mbps upstream, but the actual guaranteed speed is significantly less and can be as low as 15Mbps downstream and 5Mbps upstream.
Fibre-to-the-Premise (FttP) and Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FttC) services are not recommended for use by schools with more than 50 learners due to limitations of these technologies.
Bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted at a time. Adequate bandwidth will avoid buffering and call dropping issues when using data heavy resources such as online video sharing platforms and video chat applications.
Schools should have a service suited to the size of the school (in terms of all users – practitioners, office staff and learners), and the school’s delivery needs, both now and in the future.
Determining bandwidth will depend on your specific requirements for delivering digital teaching and learning; the age and capacity of your technology; how your school digital environment has been set up; and how you intend to use your broadband.
You should always consult with your local authority if you wish to increase your bandwidth to ensure that you are getting the most out of your service.
As a guideline, it is recommended that primary schools should have at least 100Mbps connection, and secondary schools should have at least 1Gbps connection. If schools believe they need more than this, they should talk with their local authority to understand their typical bandwidth utilisation, prior to entering into any agreement for extra bandwidth.
From a housekeeping perspective it is also worth understanding that you can help maintain bandwidth for learning during the school day by scheduling software updates, patching and downloads outside of these core hours.
You should also be aware of the demands of Smart devices which require continuous access to the internet (also referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT)) in case allowing those devices onto the school IT network causes a detrimental impact on the bandwidth availability for teaching and learning.
As the online environment becomes increasingly ‘media-rich’ with sound, video, and dynamic animations, the amount of data you consume will increase.
Broadband with data limits should be avoided as it will restrict your school's ability to use the internet in class. Teachers should not have to be concerned about rationing how long a class can use the internet because of built in data limits.
The PSBA has no data limits in place and is therefore ideal for school use.
Please see Planning and Management Guidance, and Standard A1 on broadband provision for more information.
Data limits are not the same as bandwidth – bandwidth is essentially the size of the connection coming into school, but data is the amount of traffic that passes over that connection, usually measured on a daily or monthly basis.
As the online environment becomes increasingly ‘media-rich’ with sound, video, and dynamic animations, the amount of data consumed in a web-browsing session will increase.
The PSBA does NOT have a data limit so you cannot reach a cap by using these media rich resources. However, should you enter into a contract for Internet Service with a non PSBA provider, you need to check whether there is a set amount of data per month for your school.
You could easily incur penalty charges for exceeding that allowance. In some cases, some Internet providers will place a ‘hard-cap’ and once you exceed this allowance Internet access won’t be possible until the start of the next month. Furthermore, limits on your data usage can constrain your planning and could inhibit the use of digital learning.
As teacher confidence and a school's reliance on online tools grows, the school broadband service must be able to expand flexibly to cope with the demand.
The PSBA is designed to flex and grow with schools’ demands and will therefore continue to meet your needs into the future.
Being restricted to a service that does not offer the ability to expand means that it will be difficult and/or expensive to respond to changing requirements.
Please see Planning and Management Guidance, and Standard A3 for more information.
This gives you an option to scale the amount of bandwidth that your school can use without having to incur major expense by installing multiple Internet connections.
Your Internet needs and network bandwidth requirements will change over time e.g. due to increased pupil numbers.
The PSBA is specifically designed to scale and flex with the demands of the schools.
Being restricted to a fixed service that does not offer the ability to expand with your needs means that it will be difficult and/or expensive to respond to changing requirements.
Internet connectivity should be considered as the fourth utility alongside water, gas and electricity services to your school.
The purpose of having measurable SLAs (Service Level Agreements) on your Internet service is to ensure that your service is back up and running as soon as possible in the event of any fault.
This allows you to have confidence that internet services will be available for when you've planned to use them in lessons and when you have not.
Please refer to the PSBA website for full details on what is contained within the SLA and the nature of the value-added services it entails.
Please see Planning and Management Guidance, and Standard A1 for more information.
Your school needs reliable high-speed Internet access to meet the demands of an increasingly digital curriculum.
A minimum guaranteed service level means that your service provider is contractually obliged to resolve any problems causing degraded service or a complete lack of connectivity within guaranteed timescales. The purpose of having measurable SLAs on your Internet service is to ensure that your service is back up and running as soon as possible in the event of any fault on that service.
PSBA provides a managed service where the provider will proactively monitor for faults and manage telecom companies to fix any problems with your school’s connection to the network. In the event of a fault or degraded service, it is vital that you can rely on your network provider to restore service quickly without the school having to report problems, diagnose faults and chase for regular updates. In the majority of instances where such issues occur, PSBA mobilise quickly to diagnose the cause and fix problems within contractual SLAs (6 hours to fix symmetrical fibre-based services and 6 hours for FttC or FttP services).
Having confidence that any faults will be dealt with efficiently and effectively assists with your business continuity plans. Local authorities will receive regular updates on the fault resolution process and can keep you informed so that you are aware of expected repair times, and whether or not the school will need to make alternative provision for lessons.
Despite PSBA delivering very high service levels and availability, schools should always have a workable contingency plan to mitigate disruption arising from network-related issues.
Your existing broadband provider, especially if it is PSBA, will have additional services put in place to help protect your network and safeguard your learners e.g. firewalls; DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection; etc.
It is important to know what services your broadband supplier provides. Swapping to a cheaper connection may mean the loss of important safeguarding and threat-management tools that expose teachers and learners to unnecessary risks.
Please see Planning and Management Guidance, and Standard A1 and A3 for more information.
Your existing broadband provider, especially if it is PSBA, will have additional services in place to help protect your network and safeguard your learners. These may include firewalls; DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection; web filtering; and proactive network management systems that identify issues with the service before they turn into problems.
If you choose to terminate your current contract for network and Internet connectivity, you must ensure that any existing value-add services are replicated by your new provider on a like-for-like basis (or better). Should you overlook these, this could result in additional costs to include them with your new service.
PSBA also offers a direct, secure connection to local authority education systems (e.g. SIMS returns; ALN information). If you use another Internet provider, you may need to implement a secure connection from your school, across the Internet and back into your local authority systems. This may incur additional costs or introduce technical complexities that are not required when using PSBA, as local authorities are part of the same connection.