Cheshire deploys wireless facilities to boost schools' e-learning projects

Smart projects: Council's wireless system costs less than half the cost of a wired alternative

Smart projects: Council's wireless system costs less than half the cost of a wired alternative.

Cheshire County Council has connected every school and local authority location in the county to its new wireless communications facilities for less than half the cost of a wired alternative.

The Connected Cheshire project benefits the county's 352 state schools by enabling them to provide a consistent e-learning offering across different schools and for pupils studying different subjects.

The council said, "Connected Cheshire has facilitated the development of e-learning in Cheshire schools by extending the curriculum available to Cheshire children. For example, e-learning will augment the teaching of foreign languages at primary level and support for minority A-level subjects such as philosophy and psychology."

The network will cost Cheshire County Council £13.5m over its five-year life. If Cheshire had not used wireless, the cost would have been 75% greater, said the council.

Cheshire spent two years setting up the project: defining the scope of the network, running a tender in accordance with European Union rules, gaining approval from councillors and piloting the technology.

A further year was spent connecting schools and local authority sites to the network.

Some 127 council locations and 39 public libraries were connected to the network within four months of work starting on the deployment.

The county's 46 secondary schools and 14 special schools went live on the network in the same timeframe. However, the council took an additional 12 months to connect its 292 primary schools to the network after first piloting the wireless technology at 18 schools.

The IT department used a combination of networking technologies to connect all 518 locations. Wireless, fibre optic and copper circuits were used to connect locations depending on local conditions.

More than 107,000 children now use e-learning modules through the Connected Cheshire network.

Connected Cheshire was paid for through 12 separate sources of funding, many of which were one-off government grants. Because the grants were awarded as lump sums, Cheshire needed to invest in a technology that could be paid for up front and which would have minimal running costs.

The council said, "The choice of technology was partly determined by the capital-intensive nature of central government grants radio technology offers low-running costs in return for initial capital investment."

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