Recently, the Department for Education published new guidance to schools and colleges on the digital and technology standards they should meet in a range of key categories, including wireless networks.
However, many schools feel perplexed by the guidance and are in need of support to understand why the DfE digital and technology standards matter and how to choose a wireless network that meets government guidelines. In this article, we aim to demystify the DfE guidance and provide practical tips for ensuring that your wireless network meets the standards needed.
Why do digital and technology standards matter?
As technology in schools advances rapidly, and teaching and learning increasingly rely heavily on internet connectivity, the DfE has produced guidance to support schools to choose the right digital infrastructure and technology. The DfE advises that meeting the standards helps schools to make informed decisions about technology, increasing budget efficiency, and school safety but ultimately enhancing teaching and learning.
In the past, schools may have relied on consultancy with outside agencies to know what equipment to use and what is best for their needs. The new guidelines allow schools to ensure that suppliers have set standards to work to and meet the needs of the end user setting.
The guidance currently covers four key categories and will be expanded to meet others in the future:
- Broadband internet (including appropriate IT security)
- Network switching
- Network cabling
- Wireless networks
Why do wireless network standards matter?
Thanks to many schools offering a device on a per-pupil and staff basis, helping them promote technology further within their teaching, the number of users in school accessing the internet at the same time is ever-increasing. Ensuring that you have the right wireless network in place has a number of benefits, including ensuring that everyone can access the internet at the same time, without losing connection or experiencing slow speeds which can reduce productivity and halt learning.
What standards do wireless networks need to meet?
A wireless network utilises access points to establish a connection so that users can access the internet reliably at adequate speeds across the school. A school’s wireless network should meet the following standards:
- Must use the Wi-Fi 6 standard (802.11ax)
- Must be configured to support network segregation and Quality of Service (QoS)
- Wireless network points should be installed across the school site, this could be up to one in each classroom and also include external access points outside where needed
- The number of access points should meet the planned occupation level for your school
- Wireless heat mapping should be undertaken to ensure that the wireless network isn’t impacted by other networks in the school
- Have security systems in place to prevent access by unauthorised users
- Have a 2.5Gb or faster link to the networking switches
In addition, the access points must include a central management tool to configure and monitor the access points, which can achieve the following:
- Active signal management and load balancing
- Configuration tools, performance monitoring and failure alerts
- Manufacturer warranty and support for software and firmware updates
- Be scalable and accommodate future higher bandwidth needs
- Have a configuration file that allows the system to be reset back to the original configuration
- Configuration changes must be secure and fully documented
Finally, your network solution should ensure that authorised guests or mobile device users are securely authenticated onto the network. This means that your network may need:
- VLANS (Virtual Local Area Networks)
- ACLs (Access Control Lists)
- Secure guest access
- Latest authentication protocols (WPA3)
- Wireless intrusion protection (WIPs)
- Certificate based authentication
- Privileged users and technical support staff require MFA (multi-factor authentication)
How can Link ICT Services support schools to meet the standards?
Link ICT Services are able to plan, supply and install your wireless networking solution. Our comprehensive service begins with us understanding your needs, planning and recommending the right solution to meet your needs. We then work with our partners to procure the solution at the best possible pricing, with educational discount. The next stage is for us to install and securely configure your network, giving you the peace of mind that your wireless network meets DfE standards. We then provide ongoing support for our users.
A wireless network from Link ICT Services can be installed on a standalone basis, or in combination with network switches and cabling, meeting DfE standards across the board.