Cheriton Fitzpaine Primary School among 100 rural primary schools to get improved broadband

By Alan Quick   |   Editorial Manager/Photojournalist   |
Saturday 9th March 2019 7:30 am
Cheriton Fitzpaine Primary School. SR 0721 ()

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CHERITON Fitzpaine Primary School is among more than 100 rural primary schools across England set to get gigabit-capable broadband connections within the next few months as part of the Government’s commitment to improve internet infrastructure in rural areas.

Under the £3 million pilot programme, three schools have already been connected, and 52 have signed contracts with work expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

There are also ongoing discussions with another 72 schools who are interested in taking part. The trial was originally planned to reach 100 schools, but the project has been delivered under-budget, allowing even more schools to benefit.

Minister for Digital, Margot James said: "This project is a great example of the Government’s new ’outside in’ approach to rolling out full fibre broadband, which is taking gigabit broadband to the hardest to reach rural areas first. As well as making a dramatic difference for students in the classroom, by using the schools as broadband hubs we are also making ultrafast broadband available to thousands of rural homes and businesses across the country more quickly."

Those schools already connected under the programme have seen their broadband speeds jump from 0.5 Megabits per Second (Mbps) to 100Mbps, and have the capability to be upgraded to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps) in the future should they wish to do so.

These new speeds are enabling whole classes to simultaneously surf the internet on tablets as part of structured lessons, and gives schools easier access to online training and educational learning. Access to cloud services not only means savings as staff go paperless, but it has also enabled the decommissioning of the school’s local servers to reduce hardware, maintenance and IT support costs.

Mary See, Headteacher at Cheselbourne Village School, Dorset said: "Having new super-fast broadband reach our school has revolutionised the way we work.  The much faster and reliable access to the web has allowed staff to work more efficiently; while the children, although still geographically remote, are no longer technologically isolated and will have the same opportunities as their urban peers in preparing for a more technological future."   

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “In our inter-connected world, a fast, reliable internet connection has never been more important. The schools will be connected to the world of technology, enabling teachers to realise the benefits that fast and reliable broadband has to offer, from reducing teacher workload to improving access to high-quality resources.

“I don’t want schools in villages and rural areas to be left in the slow lane when it comes to broadband, and the funding announced today will benefit the schools that are most in need.”

Kim Mears, managing director for Strategic Infrastructure Development at Openreach said: “We’re really pleased to be able to support the Government’s drive to connect up schools with full fibre broadband through our Full Fibre Infrastructure Build programme, which enables schools not in our commercial roll out plans to still connect to our full fibre network – without incurring any build costs. Without fast reliable connectivity there is the risk that children will miss out on what is now an essential learning tool, so being able to connect up schools in this way is great news.”

Mel Stride, the MP for Central Devon, said: “I’m very pleased that two schools in my constituency, Cheriton Fitzpaine and Highampton near Hatherleigh, have been chosen to take part in this trial programme and I am confident that it will be a success.

“Teachers and staff will benefit from quicker speeds when it comes to online data entry or contributing to online journals and pupils will benefit from faster access to online training and educational learning.

“There have been huge improvements in terms of access to superfast broadband within our constituency during the nine years I have been an MP with dozens of communities benefiting from better speeds. But there is still more to do to make sure every business, school and home has access, and this is another step in the right direction.”

Last month Mr Stride was in Okehampton breaking ground for a new AirBand mast at the Business Centre which will improve speeds for nearby businesses and homes.

The trial is part of the Government’s £190 million Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme, and will see the schools benefit from fully-funded and future-proof full fibre connections directly into their classrooms. In addition the new connection being provided to schools has had the added benefit of increasing connectivity for the surrounding homes and businesses. Once the fibre has been laid (with the school acting as a “hub”) connecting other premises in the area becomes much more commercially viable to broadband providers.

The trial will be instrumental in shaping the £200 million second round of the LFFN Challenge Fund, targeting the hardest to reach areas in the UK. Building on the same principle, the programme will deliver gigabit-capable connections to key public and business buildings, including schools, as well as encouraging broadband providers to create additional connections to local homes.

Other Devon schools already connected or due to be connected soon are: Princetown Community Primary School, Holberton School, Farway Church of England Primary, Filleigh Community Primary School and St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School.

In the recent Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), the Government made it a priority to connect hard-to-reach rural areas, with the overall aim to connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025, and the whole of the UK by 2033.

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