Orleans Park is an Ofsted-rated ‘outstanding’ comprehensive school for 11-16 year olds, based on a 16-acre site in Twickenham, Middlesex. In September 2014, Orleans Park will welcome its first intake of sixth form students, and has expanded geographically with a purpose-built sixth form centre to accommodate new students. Currently, Orleans Park welcomes over 1,000 students and 200 teaching staff on-site each day.
Peter Richardson is the Senior IT Technician at the school and explains the decision to move to a wireless network at Orleans Park: “Until two months ago, we had no WiFi in school at all. Our PC estate, which is around 450 desktops, was connected via a wired network infrastructure. PCs are grouped in purpose built rooms and in each classroom. Teachers and students had to sit down together to use them, logging on and off and taking turns.
“We’re ambitious academically, keen to support our students of all ages, and adamant that we wanted our new sixth form facility to be as connected and flexible as possible. Therefore, 2014 was an excellent time to deploy a wireless network, with the aim of giving both pupils and teachers the ability to work with mobile devices from wherever they happened to be in the school grounds.”
Stone worked with Orleans Park to tackle the main challenges:
- Suitability of site for a wireless network and its initial mapping
- Future-proofing of the network and ensuring it was flexible enough to grow with the school
- Deployment and testing
With over 70 rooms in the school’s layout, over 16 acres, the wireless network needed to be strong enough to provide continuous access. Peter confirms, “I was concerned about dropped signal when a teacher is moving about the classroom, or going from room to room. We also had a strong case for WiFi being available on the playing fields and outdoor areas, so the network needed to be robust enough for our ambitions.”
Stone supplied Peter with one of its team to act as a wireless surveyor, who examined a site map before deployment and planned the location of the wireless Access Points (APs). This approach worked. On deployment and testing, not one single AP needed to be relocated, minimising disruption to classrooms.
As this was to be Orleans Park’s first wireless network, and therefore the first time that students, and particularly teachers, have had the opportunity to work using mobile devices in schools, Stone worked with Orleans Park to create a plan for testing the network.
The school has no formal Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, but staff and students were going to be encouraged to use the new network with their own and the school’s devices, so a communications strategy on access, security and usage would be important to the speed and success of uptake.
Orleans Park selected the Cisco Meraki 802.11ac after a direct comparison test with the same WiFi standard offering from an alternative provider. Peter Richardson then contacted Stone Group to consult, supply, implement and manage the Cisco Meraki network.
The 802.11ac WiFi standard is a faster and more scalable version of 802.11n and couples the freedom of wireless with the capabilities of Gigabit Ethernet. With faster download speeds and better network security, 802.11ac is popular with Stone’s education customers looking to improve their digital teaching capabilities before the start of the new academic year in September 2014.
Peter Richardson explains why he chose Cisco Meraki, “It was a great fit for us, with its cloud-based controller and management options. Stone’s expertise meant the installation was quick and painless. The MR34 Access Points it supplies are the fastest AC standard available. It takes literally seconds to download a video clip or music file to support a lesson. We now have an uncontended, 100MG internet connection. It’s really quick to connect, and moving from classroom to corridor and beyond, nobody notices the cell changes or a drop in availability.”
The new wireless network will connect the school’s devices to the web via its secure London Grid for Learning ISP. Teachers and students can log on using their own mobiles or tablets, or the school’s devices, via WPA2-PSK keys.
30 MR34 Access Points cover the site with ‘always on’ WiFi, including outdoor areas such as playing fields. Teachers are now able to take the register electronically during outdoor lessons and sync-up with the Orleans Park Capita SIMS database, which helps maintain a most accurate record of student attendance and achievement possible.
The 802.11ac WiFi also works with IRIS Connect, Orleans Park’s chosen lesson observation technology, which films classroom activity for training and performance review. The IRIS camera now backs up over WiFi and can also be remotely viewed, or the video can be shared with the objective of improving lessons. This has been made possible by the new wireless network, as previously, trailing the camera cables through the classroom to position the cameras was making floor space unsafe.
Peter Richardson continues: “Our Sixth-Form centre opens in September and new students will be able to access their course materials, learning aids and engage with their teachers via the network. It’s incredibly fast, downloading files in seconds. Learning is no longer classroom based here, it can be anywhere on-site, with no awkward bandwidth downtime.
“It’s been a few days since I turned the network on, and already about one third of students are accessing it. We used a small pool of ICT students to test it, and since going-live, word of mouth has spread its popularity on campus. We think that, within a couple of months, all students will be running two devices each over the WiFi. I don’t think this would have been possible if I’d chosen a less robust standard than 802.11ac,” he confirmed.
Simon Harbridge, CEO at Stone Group commented: “We supplied Orleans Park with their new Cisco Meraki network after a site visit to assess the school’s geography and infrastructure and plan the set-up. 802.11ac is remarkably quick WiFi and has the Gigabit Ethernet back-up to be able to cope well with lots of data changing hands between students and the internet. It’s perfect for educative requirements and, judging by the sharp upswing we’re seeing in interest, many schools and colleges are seeing it as an essential investment when refreshing their tech estate ahead of the new academic year.”
Stone Group’s WiFi planning and consultancy strategy has ensured that the Orleans Park network is completely scalable. As pupil numbers or the school’s footprint grows, so can the network. New APs can be added quickly and simply with the aid of small brackets, clipping to the ceiling tiles and providing extra connectivity.
Word on the WiFi at Orleans Park is being spread organically via the students themselves, who are using their WEP keys to log on with their own devices and telling their classmates. Peter Richardson confirms, “Students are leading the WiFi charge here, and teachers are following their own path. I consider that to be a very positive sign. We’re 100 per cent committed to making sure our students have what they need to shine academically and we’re absolutely convinced that the WiFi will help them take their own education as far as they want it to go.”
Orleans Park has no immediate plans to standardise tablet devices or implement a one-on-one device scheme, however, the school is keeping a close eye on the uptake of the wireless network via student and staff’s own devices to monitor necessity.
With such a proud academic record to base our aspirations on, we are really looking forward to seeing how wireless learning drives our ambitions, particularly with our new Sixth-Form centre, in the coming months.