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LCR Connect: Future-proofing the internet for schools

With more resources online than ever before, schools need fast, reliable and secure full-fibre connectivity – but some schools are being left behind. LCR Connect will supply schools with full-fibre internet, capable of reaching speeds over 1Gb.

Over the past two years, we’ve all relied on our internet more than ever before. This is especially true for schools, who had to move all classes and resources online during the pandemic. So with more virtual lessons and ever increasing internet traffic, can existing network infrastructure meet schools’ new demands? For many, the answer is no. 

There are still areas across the UK that don’t have access to full fibre connectivity and until recently, the Liverpool City Region (LCR) was one of them. The archaic copper infrastructure in these boroughs, limits local schools’ ability to integrate technology into their teaching and utilise digital resources and virtual learning to enhance students’ education. 

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, along with ITS and NGE, recognised the growing demands placed on schools and academies in the area and launched the LCR Connect initiative.

Fiber Optic cables connected

What is LCR Connect?

Essentially, LCR Connect will upgrade the internet connection of schools, businesses, public sector organisations and charities in the Liverpool City Region. The new infrastructure will deliver high speed, full fibre optic connectivity to six district boroughs:

  • Liverpool
  • Sefton
  • Wirral
  • Halton
  • Knowsley
  • St Helens

All in all, the project will deliver fast, reliable and secure connectivity to 246 schools in the Liverpool City Region. The new network will comprise of 212km of fibre optic cable across the district, providing full fibre connectivity capable of reaching speeds of 1Gb or more.

Who's involved?

LCR Connect is working in partnership with ITS, hi-impact, and Exa. While ITS will handle the installation, we will work with hi-impact to deliver internet services to schools across the Liverpool City Region. 

hi-impact was set up 14 years ago by Alan Thompson, a former teacher with a passion to improve digital skills and learning experiences in schools. They are experts in embedding technology into the curriculum of education providers, and recently won the Business of the Year Award in Liverpool Echo’s Regional Business Awards.  

We started working with hi-impact ten years ago when the original council services were deemed overpriced and no longer fit for purpose. hi-impact were looking to partner with an ISP that could meet the schools’ needs and work in a more flexible way, and we stepped up to help.

Our work with hi-impact has given us insight into the changing needs of schools in the Liverpool Region. For many years now, schools have required fast download speeds to acquire new resources, watch videos and read emails. With more schools using tools like cloud computing and streaming services, demand has increased whilst requiring these services to work instantly.

How will this benefit schools?

Pressure on schools has only grown, with stricter budgets and a focus on results. Schemes like LCR Connect help by providing schools with high quality internet that can facilitate the ever increasing reliance on digital learning tools at a cost-effective price. 

New government standards  state schools need to upgrade to a full fibre connection as soon as possible. You can read the latest updates in our KCSiE Updates 2022 blog.

school children using laptop for education

While these standards can be accommodated by many urban schools, if budget allows, the biggest benefits will be seen in the connection itself, by rural schools. Full fibre infrastructure is expensive to install – cable needs to be laid and roads dug up. For schools in towns and cities, this costs less as ISPs can use their existing cable trunking. Rural schools, however, need brand new cables laid – which pushes the price above their budget. 

With LCR Connect, a whole range of service users benefit from the same infrastructure. The setup costs are shared across many organisations. This means the initiative is an affordable way for schools to benefit from high speed, full-fibre internet. 

Teachers and students will also see many in-classroom benefits that will enhance their education provision:

Reliable connectivity
This improves lesson productivity and teaching efficiency – time is wasted in lessons when connectivity isn’t reliable.
Improved access for many devices
Schools as a whole can embrace the use of technology in their lessons as the connection can support a number of devices at any one time
Renewed confidence
With the new reliable connection, teachers are more confident and enthusiastic about using technology in their lessons.
Improves future planning
Encourages investment into new or future technology purchases to support the development of digital skills.

LCR Connect comes as we launch Exa Protect & Connect® – a bundle of internet services including safeguarding and security systems that ensure schools meet government standards. The Protect element includes:

  • SurfProtect® Content Filtering designed and built by Exa to fulfil the filtering guidelines set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE) and The Prevent Duty.
    • Located entirely in the cloud, SurfProtect® Quantum performs network-level filtering, ensuring all traffic on your school’s internet connection is filtered. A default filtering policy is automatically implemented, which prevents access to the most commonly blocked web categories, as advised by the UK Safer Internet Centre. With Quantum’s AD integration feature, you can create user-specific profiles – making it possible to create separate policies for groups, subject classes, and even individual users. 
    • SurfProtect® Quantum+ is Exa’s advanced content filtering platform. With the Quantum+ Captive Portal, users can sign in to external devices using their school credentials to get the same profile as their school device. Quantum+ also features SurfProtect® Anywhere which filters devices even when users are at home. Once signed in they will receive the same profile and level of filtering as they would if they were in school. 
    • All SurfProtect® category and keyword settings continue to apply as normal. Traffic is logged on SurfProtect® analytics, and attempts to access restricted sites will populate real-time alerts to your designated safeguarding lead.  
  • Securus Monitoring that ensures compliance with the statutory guidance on safeguarding children as well as Ofsted. Operating in the background, Securus monitors users online usage and alerts your safeguarding team to any concerning activity, allowing early intervention to take place.
  • FortiGate Firewalls offer you cost effective protection from a broad array of threats, ensuring your pupils, data and network are safe and secure. They seamlessly integrate with SurfProtect and Securus and deliver the industry’s highest performance, value, and flexibility for complete content and network protection.

With the launch of Protect & Connect® and the LCR Connect roll out we want to lift the limits currently placed on schools in the Liverpool City Region, and empower them to integrate technology even further into their teaching and learning. We can only hope more areas see the benefits of similar schemes in the near future.

Mark Cowgill, Commercial Director, Exa Networks

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