school, people, google, vouchers, kids, bt, megabytes, bit, connection, email, community, village, called, gigabyte, leaflets, microsoft, terms, dig, pounds, head
Hello, I can’t hear you yet. Can you hear me?
Can you hear me now?
Yes I can. Great.
I’m doing well, how are you, M-?
Yeah, good. Yeah, yeah.
Hanging in there?
No COVID’s been at this school so we’re okay.
Oh, that’s good. Yeah, fingers crossed.
Yeah. I think it’s a case of when not if isn’t it, really?
Yeah. Flowing ahead until then, really.
Are you, are you speaking to me from from the school now?
Yeah, in my office, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, no, no, that’s great. Yeah. My partner is actually a teacher and they’ve had numerous cases at his school. So, yeah, I do think that you’re right, that it’s probably only a M-er of time, really.
Where are you at?
I’m actually, I mean, I’m based at the University of Oxford professionally, but I’m living in Manchester, so.
Oh, right, Manchester.
The schools in Manchester are quite bad, I think, aren’t they?
Yeah, exactly. Just all the schools around here are a little bit. Um, yeah, are…
All the ones in Kendall are the same now they’ve shot year groups or classes and things but we’re in the middle of nowhere. Hoping that will help, you know, we’re surrounded by about several 1000 acres of field. So hopefully!
Yeah, hopefully that’ll keep you a little bit safer. Yeah. And one of the advantages of being more remote, I guess.
Hopefully. We’ll see what else we find out. So how can I help?
Yeah, so um, yeah, thanks so much for responding to my random message. I really appreciate that. But basically, I’ve been doing a whole bunch of research on B4RN and how B4RN has…and how barn has come about and, and how, basically, the the way in which community activism is, is related to kind of internet connectivity. So I’m sort of interested in the human side of internet connectivity and tech. And so um, so basically, I’ve kind of been working with and on B4RN for the last almost two years now. And I have been collecting lots of personal experiences, basically, from people who volunteer for B4RN or work from for B4RN, about the process of building B4RN at a community level. And so when I saw your tweet just completely randomly, saying that you were driving around getting wayleaves, I was kind of, I’m actually I’m currently working on a piece, I’m writing a piece about wayleaves in particular. And so I thought it might be good to um, yeah, just reach out and have a chat with you. Oh, do you have a dog their dog?
Yeah I mean, basically, our school during lockdown, um, got contacted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports.
I think working in conjunction with the DFE. And we were entitled, because of our existing connection, which is the one we’re still using, we were entitled to 35,000 pounds to upgrade our service, our services about 50 megabytes for a Google reference school. So even though we’ve only got about 100 kids, there’s quite a lot of time when there’s 50 to 75 Kids online at once. So 50 megabytes, whereas for a residential property in a city that will probably be normal, that’s fast around here, but for a school with 50 odd kids at once was was just no good. So we sort of jumped to the chance. And we did a tendering process. So we did a tender and tender process to a shortlist of companies that were given to us by the DCSM. But I knew about anyway because my parents live in a village called Holton.
Yeah, just outside Lancaster. And they’ve just got it there. And obviously a gigabyte is future proof in my book, you know, and I think we did have a brief conversation with B4RN about getting 10 gigabytes. But I don’t think that many devices that would actually be able to function fast enough to justify a 10 gigabytes and the switches cost more money.
So I got together a dedicated group of people - that’s the one who’s here now - very dedicated! - and I think there’s about seven of us. Because we were told by B4RN, who won the tender…sorry I’ll just go back to the tender. So the three companies that tendered, B4RN weren’t the cheapest, um, by a long way. But BT, who are BT, shall we say, offered us up to 150 megabytes for 4500 pounds a year. So we get an increase of 50 to 100 megabytes for another 500 [inaudible - maybe ‘per gig?’] our connection cost us about 4000 pounds a year. And it’s currently through BT Lancashire. And we have fibre to the cabinet on the school property. So when the tenders came back, they were cheapest. But we had a conversation with the DCSM, which I think are quite keen to use B4RN quite a lot because it’s not for profit community-led and things. And B4RN were awarded the tender. And this was only at the start of September. It’s at a village down the valley about nine kilometers away. And we were told that yeah, we need to arrange wayleaves for those nine kilometers… Because if we don’t have this up and running and installed by the 31st of March, we lose that 35,000 pounds. The overall cost of the work I think is about 350,000 pounds. And so if we didn’t get it done by March, and we did lose that money, it’s not the end of the world because there’s those vouchers if a residential property signs up, they can claim…I think it’s 1500
But it’s doubled to 3000 now and businesses are 3500 doubled to 7000. And we’ve got sufficient sign up now to pretty much cover the cost. It was a bit more relevant for this community because BT have actually just installed superfast in the area. School can’t get it. So a lot of locals have signed up and taken the vouchers. And we’re getting about 150 megabytes. So it’s certainly not a bad speed. But there’s a lot of people that don’t like BT, and there’s a lot of tiny tiny lanes in Ipswich rural Lake District - hundreds of properties down tiny lanes actually which in terms of a business model, BT will never connect. So one of the governors is actually helping me. He lives about two miles from school in a village called Crock [***sp?], and all the houses in that area, BT have got dibs on their vouchers, if you like. What BT have said several times, ‘we’ve got no plans to dig it in because it’s not cost effective’.
And they’ve offered some scheme in the individual cabinets, they can all invest in that something. Um, and so because we get to cross-ways [???], we can actually then look at getting B4RN on to other villages. So it is community led by the school and various community members but it’s also about getting it across-ways [sp???], so we can go on to all the little villages from cross-way. Because I think if B4RN gets across like they’re never going to get a connection this speed again. B4RN as a company… the lady that’s been on the ground as it were walking the routes with us and meeting us every week has been fantastic. B4RN as a company have been okay, a bit stretched quite thin is the impression I get. So we have to wait for them a few times to enable the postcodes on the back to check and things like that. But no complaints really at all. And I think we’re pretty much at the point where it’s done, we’ve got all the wayleaves agreed. I think we’ve got about 70% of the vouchers we need to sign up to cover the total costs.
Amazing. Wow, that’s great. And…
And then we’ll be breaking ground in a month or so. And it should be in well before March because I’ve got to give notice to BT by the end of December. But from a school perspective, it’ll save us 4000 a month. And B4RN have been very good and have also said that actually, you get it for free if the village hall hosts the cabinet, they get it for free in the maturity input [sp???] to the church as well. So the fact that it’s very community oriented means people, even people that are on BT, etc…#, say ‘We’re gonna move to B4RN as soon as we can’.
And it’s 30 pounds a month, you know, so it’s, by today’s standards, 30 pounds a month for a gigabyte, and then you stick an internet phone on it, a voice operated thing… It’s cheaper than anything else out there really, I think. But yeah, it’s… it’s been a busy few weeks and a lot of walking fields.
The service, I mean, I know friends that have got it in very remote areas and it’s fantastic. It very rarely goes wrong, very rarely breaks down, because once it’s in it’s in, really. And it’s ridiculously fast for me. I live about two miles away and I’m on a satellite link with a company called Kencomm [sp???] which is about 60 quid a month. And on a good day, I’ll get about two megabytes; It’s supposed to be 15 to 20 but it’s never that and if it’s remotely stormy, there’s no internet, you know. But that is probably something you would see matched across quite large areas of Cumbria and North Yorkshire and Northumbria would imagine because there’s just no other options really.
So yeah, I’m very positive about B4RN overall and looking good that we’ll get there, really. I hope!
Yeah. That’s amazing. Okay, so I have a few questions, just to make sure that I understand how your relationship with B4RN started. But actually, before I carry on, may I just ask if it’s okay with you, if I record the conversation?
It’s fine. Yeah.
Yeah, is that okay? All right. Cool. I’m going to, I’m going to click record here. It’ll just help me with my notes later on.
Yeah. Great. So yeah, so my first question was, you mentioned that B4RN was coming in as a lot more expensive for the builds for your school than the other companies that you put the tender out to that bid for the tender? And I’m just wondering…was that because… what were the quotes that you were kind of getting from from companies like BT in comparison to B4RN, which you said was 350,000? Is that right?
Yeah, I’d have to check the figures and check that’s right. But yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate cost for B4RN.
The other companies were a good 50 to 60% cheaper.
Well, there was no voucher funding alongside that. So we would have had to raise money, whereas even though B4RN was more expensive with the vouchers and the subsidies on the vouchers at the moment
In a way from the school’s perspective, the community’s perspective, it’s nil cost.
So I think B4RN normally works that, a community leads it -
And they dig the trenches and things. But this has almost happened backwards, this one, as a B4RN project. Because as part of the money, we’ve got to arrange the wayleaves and B4RN dig it in for us, whereas normally it’s the other way around sort of thing. I have a funny feeling it was about 80,000 pounds, but I’d have to find the figures.
But like I say, when you consider the vouchers that you get for a residential and business property that signs off, in a way it was cheaper, even though it was three times more.
Yeah. And also, it sounds like over the long term, it might wind up being cheaper, potentially, because you’re not actually paying for it per month after it’s installed either. So it’s free, right? Yeah.
From the school’s perspective, yeah. We set a three year budget and it’ll save us just under 12,000 pounds over the next three years. Which =
In the current financial climate is massive.
Because we’re pinching pennies at the moment.
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so could you give me a little bit more context about your role at the school and why you were involved in the, in the bidding process to upgrade your internet connection, it sounds like?
Uh, I’m a head teacher. So um, it all comes…it’s a relatively small school. It’s only 100 kids. So most things come through me, really. And emails, I think it was around mid July were sent on to me. At that time in lockdown and I sent it on to a governor who used to work for Capita and run quite big projects and said, can he look into it. So I actually delegated the tender into him. Because I thought it’s probably well, it was, quite important we did it properly, you know, professionally didn’t just award a contract to someone, but the DCSM required a proper tendering process anyway. And so, I mean, what as a small school head you’re involved in most projects, whether it’s community or school based, so we’ve got…I think we’ve got about 10 now in our core group that have all signed the GDPR and things um, and that’s two school governors and myself from the School and various local people, some who have got connections to the parish Council, for example, some who are just keen to help because they haven’t got broadband, they can’t get anything, and they want to use it. Um, a couple who just really don’t like BT and are quite keen on anything against them! But yeah, those 10 people, I think that the biggest thing for us is that every one of those 10 has taken on a section of the nine kilometers. We’ve been able to do it very quickly that way by doing it that way and linking it. I think if it was one person doing it would never happen. Just too much work.
Yeah. So when you say -
I hope that answers your question.
Yeah, yeah, it does. Yeah. I was just wondering about how your role kind of at the outset of the, of the project…um, could you tell me a little bit about the type of school that you’re at, you mentioned that it’s a Google something school what what is that?
Um, so it’s a small Church of England voluntary aided school. And in Cumbria there’s about 350 [***not sure if he said 350 or 315] primary schools and about 100 are small church schools and it’s in the middle of nowhere between Kendall and Windermere. We as a school link more nationally and regionally than we do locally, to be honest. And about three years ago, we had an Ofsted inspection which went quite well. And after that we sat down and thought ‘we’ve got a few years without the next Ofsted inspection’ - you’re aware of Ofsted? Uh, and said, ‘What’s the most likely thing that kids need for future skills?’ And it came back to technology; traveled the country, looked at various Apple schools and Microsoft schools and Google schools and chose to start using Google, um, Google and Microsoft in terms of what your education suite for your school does. There’s not a lot of difference, to be honest, they both did the same thing. Google we felt was a bit more cross platform. So you can use Google Apps on Apple, you can use them on Microsoft, you can use them on Chromebooks. Whereas Apple is just purely Apple, and Microsoft doesn’t always work very well on Apple. And also, the cost of a decent Chromebook is about 140 quid for a touchscreen computer because it’s cloud based.
Whereas a decent laptop for Microsoft or an iPad, you’re talking 400 pounds, and it’s just not cost effective. So that was 2017. In the subsequent couple of years, if not less, we’ve got at least some reports on all the kids, all the staff, all the governors use the Google education suites. I think we’re the third school in the country to become a Google reference School, which means you’re sufficiently good at using it and you can model expertise and share it with other schools and things like that. And you have to do training for the skills and things. Yeah. That’s about it really; there’s a Microsoft and Apple equivalent, but we’re sticking with Google just because of the the cost of the devices really.
Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. And you were saying that you are kind of on a 50 megabit per second or so connection at the moment?
Yeah, gone a little bit down.
Yeah. Yeah. Being quite remote, I would imagine that it’s not necessarily very consistent, depending on how many people are using it.
Well it’s fibre to cabinet. So it used to be about 90 megabytes, upload and download.
And then BT didn’t win the tender. And it’s halved…
I don’t know if that’s coincidence but it’s definitely slower! But, you know, we’re doing a project week after next school with a school in Norway, and a school in Spain. So there will be at least 28 kids on the computers all day on top of staff and if they’re video calling on Google Meet, which is quite wide bandwidth, 50 megabytes is gonna cause a few connection issues.
A gigabyte is not going to notice it.
Even things like if you’re downloading a film for the kids to watch at after school club on Netflix or something. If you’re streaming it, it’s alright if you want to download it. Downloading a two gigabyte film, if the connection drops can take 25-30 minutes, but if it’s a gigabit connection, it’s a few seconds, isn’t it? You know.
But yeah, it is very much looking forward to get that gigabyte connection is future proof, is what I keep saying it’s, you know, we’ll never need to change it, really.
I mean, never would anyway if it was free!
So yeah, the Google reference code is a big reason why we actually pushed for it. But as the head I’d said, ‘If BT win the tender we won’t bother’. Stick to what we’ve got. I’d rather not pay more every month. I personally was quite keen on B4RN so I stayed out the tender process. But no, I’m in North Lancashire, in Cumbria, and everywhere that’s got it, actually I’ve got friends that have got it and it’s, it’s as fast as you’ll ever need.
Yeah. And what’s - oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
No, sorry. I finished.
I was just going to ask um, what’s your motivation as a head teacher for getting that kind of high speed connection for your students?
Well, we live in, I mean, you’ve got 3 to 11 year olds here. Lovely kids, they’re living in one of the rare areas in the country. And it’s, it’s where they are safe to go out in the fields around their houses and play and things. And because of that, we make a point of actually taking them to the cities and showing them other things. And we have city schools that we partner with that come here and it’s just showing them the wider world but I think being in rural Cumbria I think it’s quite important that they actually link to the wider world. And we say to them, it’s like a little protective bubble in this valley and gorgeous valley. It was in a Lonely Planet book about four years ago is one of the 50 most beautiful places in the world.
I believe that.
Yeah, we say it’s nice that you’re in this but there is a wider world you need to be aware of and we actually come up to Manchester and London with the residentials to Edinburgh and Birmingham places. Just that wider world link with the school in Norway, other schools in Spain. And regular work with partner schools in Liverpool and Bolton over the computers is good, because you can’t do a trip to Liverpool every week. Just timewise it’s not feasible. So they have those regular links with other schools and other parts of the country using their own accounts - they’ve all got their own accounts and everything.
So of course, when it came to lockdown it was, we just gave out devices to the ones that needed it. And changed the settings on a few of them so they could video call the friends and chat with the friends. And off they went. It was it wasn’t really any trouble to us; doesn’t replicate school learning, but in terms of keeping the kids connected to the staff and the kids connected to each other, it was, well, glad we made the move to Google basically. Well, I keep saying Google, we still use Microsoft and Apple devices, we still have them in school, because the whole idea of it was that the kids were digitally competent. So they were able to use any device, any software, they could choose it. But it’d be very unusual now when we say to the kid ‘get a device’ that they wouldn’t choose a Chromebook ahead of an iPad, or a desktop or a laptop.
Yeah. But the fact that it’s cloud based as well - because the Chromebook has only got about 32 megabytes on it, I think, in terms of storage…that’s nothing is it nowadays? That means that we do need a decent connection as well, because everything is stored in the cloud. So there’s nothing on the computers.
Yeah, that makes sense. And, yeah, and I suppose that they’re, obviously kids will prefer whatever they’re most used to probably. So they go for the Chromebook.
Yeah, I think so. A lot of parents have bought Chromebooks for Christmas over the past year or two. We are very conscious that comes secondary school, their access to technology and the time they’ll use it is going to drop dramatically. At the secondary we’ve got 1500 kids… it’s quite difficult to provide 1500 devices, you know, it’s not, you know? But I think it’s still skills worth doing at primary school.
And they are way ahead of…well, people keep saying way ahead of the rest of the country and yeah, it’s quite interesting finding out that they are actually, yeah. So we go to BET [sp???], and we’ve presented on the Ed Tech forum nationally. And it’s been quite interesting…um, does make me wonder about other schools expectations for computer skills. I don’t think they can be that high. But yeah I don’t know, Google is interesting, because if you look at…if you join, join a few Facebook groups for Google, Google in America, obviously has all the districts and they have whole districts of schools using Google, they’re are a lot further ahead than the UK is. But Google, as a company in the UK doesn’t market itself whereas Microsoft was quite aggressive with its marketing. And if you get head teachers magazine or teachers magazine or a union magazine or School Business procurement magazine, it will have a Microsoft advert in. You will never see a Google one. So America’s definitely ahead of us, I think in terms of using Google in schools.
That’s so interesting. I really had not really considered the connection between the tech companies basically, and their their impact in schools.
Yeah. I remember querying about that 18 months ago. I got an email from Google, invited me to Birmingham for a conference to learn how to use Google Mail and Google Docs. Really simple stuff and I emailed back nicely and said, ‘look, this is a bit below us because I’ve been using Google for 18 months, anything more advanced? And why aren’t you pushing Google to all schools?’ The best thing about Google is that I spoke to Head of European Sales the next day over breakfast! He said, ‘Oh could you send me your email or give me a ring, M-’. You don’t get that with Microsoft, but we got it with Google, and they explained, because England is such a crap country in terms of government there is no central point that Google can go to in government that then feeds down to local authorities that feeds to schools. So whereas Google is promoting itself, using road shows, they’re expecting it could take them five to 10 years to get an order booked with the authorities and things. But that’s something else I like about Google, you get to know. So if you don’t like something, you can email someone and change it on the whole Google Enterprise education suite, which is good to know.
Yeah, so you really feel like, yeah, you really feel like you’re getting heard?
And you do, yeah. I mean there’s regular feedback. Sometimes you get ignored. So you’ve got Google meters like zoom, but they don’t do breakout rooms on Google meet. Unless you subscribe to enterprise for education, which is several 100 pounds a year for us. I got it. So consequently tweeted various Google people and was seeing if I couldnt get a campaign going.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if Google didn’t change that and make it free to all schools that use Google to be honest, because, they are very good at responding to suggestions and things. From speaking to friends who use Microsoft, it’s an automated helpline, Microsoft, you know, it’s no, there’s no connection. I don’t know what Apple…I suspect Apple is a similar thing, but…
Sure, yeah. Yeah, I’m not I’m not sure about that. But um, so just to return to B4RN, for a bit. I’m wondering if you could describe what the process was like getting started with B4RN and also when you started the process of talking to B4RN about building out the connection.
I mean, the process was very…it’s, as a company, it’s very underground, easy to connect to and things. So it’s literally you are allocated the person. And I think we met the boss, as it were, here on school site and discussed the project overall, he then allocated the the caseworker. And then you meet them regularly, and very firmly face to face exchange mobiles and emails and keeping constant contact. The process is very easy. When decisions need to go above your caseworker and you need to get timescales and deadlines, um, that has been a bit frustrating at times. But I think that’s probably mainly because due to the pace, the time constraints we’ve got, because we said if we don’t get the wayleaves and people signed up by the end of November, that only leaves us 4 months to dig in the nine kilometers - and actually it’ll only take about two to three weeks, but with the weather in winter… And then you know, so I think we’ve maybe surprised B4RN a few times by saying ‘look, we need this now’ when they weren’t expecting us to be there because the next village down took three years to get it all agreed. But yeah the process of working with B4RN is very simple. Sue Carry [sp???] who is our lady on the ground is great. Knows her stuff. Very methodical, tells us what to do, we go off and do it, take it from there really. Have some brief online training. And we have access to the database now - who’s accessed the vouchers and things. And training kept getting canceled, which is a bit frustrating. But again, they’ve got one person doing it and I think that branching out into Norwich, I think, Norfolk the lady was down at. So when I finally got that it was interesting, but then it turns out they’d not set up my access to the database properly still. So I still can’t see something I should have been able to see and work on a couple weeks ago, which at the time of what we’ve been doing is you know, nearly half the time we’ve been doing it because like I say we tended late July and August. But that was the summer holidays. It was only start of September when we actually sat down and started doing the routes and sorting out the wayleaves and things.
But yeah, I’m not criticizing them. I’m just saying that that aspect of the process has been a bit slower than we’d like sometimes, because we are very aware of times. And yeah, I’m a full time head teacher so if I’ve put aside an afternoon to do something I need to do it, really.
But yeah, yeah. Sue has been fantastic. Yeah. We’ve got to where we are, I think because of her.
Yeah, it sounds like actually very fast turnaround really for a project of this scale, seeing as you only started a couple months ago really in earnest.
Yeah, I think like I say normally it’s parish Council and community led, and they get the wayleaves and they discuss it and they almost dig the trenches themselves, don’t they really?
And then they go to B4RN… whereas now it’s us going to B4RN. So it’s it’s a two way street. And so done backwards accidentally, it’s almost…us having to drive it. Because we’ve got the funding and the community and B4RN meeting first. Should get there, so…
Yeah. So what is the process of getting wayleaves like? So this seems like kind of the most on the ground thing that you’ve had to do in your community is coordinating getting these wayleaves to cover the nine kilometers…
So B4RN did a map of this nine kilometers, which was sthe starting point. You don’t share that map with the people you’re going to see because it’s done in an office, their base. And actually when you’re on the ground, and as locals we know the ground ,you know that the Lake District is Rocky. So certain aspects of the ground as they originally mapped it are a complete no go to start with. Uh, the group of people I got together, myself and two governors and a few landowners, we know everybody in the valley between us. So that’s made it a lot easier in the way and because a lot of those people that live in the valley are farmers who have kids coming here to school or cousins and things means everybody has agreed to it pretty much straight away, really. Having said that we have followed the proper process of walking the route with them, giving them maps, making them read the wayleave agreements, then going back to meet them again to get them to sign it. Because if you say ‘well just give me what you want to sign off and I’ll sign’, I’ll have said, ‘No, you need to know because you need to know what it is in case you dig it up in the future’. But the process of I think, again, because it’s a small community and we knew everybody, I think it made getting the wayleaves a lot simpler. I mentioned the other village, it’s taken three years and they have to dig up a lot of roads; ours is fields. So straightaway, it’s… we have to cross roads twice, I think. But compared to the other project, which is digging up 1000s of meters of residential roads, we don’t have to, which has made it a lot simpler, because it’s just through fields and most of those fields are for cattle and sheep so there’s very little ploughing on so it’s…Yeah, the wayleaves never really worried us. It worried B4RN but we weren’t bothered. And yeah, one person said no, other than that everybody said yes. And we knew he was because he’s a difficult old git, so it wasn’t really a surprise. So we’ve just gone 'round his field and we’ve got it agreed, it’s in place now really. Yeah, we’ve done it, just need a few more people to sign up for the vouchers. But yeah, the wayleave process is interesting really because it brings you to parts of the valley you never normally see!
Yeah, I would imagine. So yeah. From your perspective, what what was that experience like timewise. And in terms of the the places that you personally had to go to get these wayleaves?
I mean timelines for me have not been ideal, because it’s a sort of 70-80 hour week job as it is.
And then every once in a while, a morning out, walk in the area, when you’re on a nice day, it’s been quite nice, actually. Because you can switch off. And it’s nice to meet some of the people that you hear about when you knock on the door. And I bet you know them anyway. And the views are stunning. I can’t you know, it’s gorgeous, gorgeous valley. So the time has been challenging, but the time is challenging in schools. COVID hasn’t helped, of course, because if it wasn’t COVID we would have called the community to the village hall, sat them all down at once and told them. So we’ve had to organize various leaflet drops to 400 properties which the ten of us have delivered between us. Time is challenging, but had to be done really.
Yeah. Do you mostly go out, or did you mostly go out for the wayleaves at the weekends? Or how did you fit that into your schedule?
Depending on who was doing it, it was as and when we could. It was quite late in the evenings until about four weeks ago, so a lot of us would meet in a Baptist school, we usually went out in pairs, and if we didn’t know them, or some of us in pairs, or at least one of us knew the people. And then sometimes it’s, ‘I’ve just come to school, dropped my daughter’s off and gone off walking’.
Right to have a chat from right from the school.
Uh, to basically have a chat about it right from the school.
Yeah, well obviously the fields around the school are part of the wayleave agreement. So some of the people I’ve known I’ve gone [inaudible] wayleaves and other places. I’ve had to walk the routes to see what the rock is like. Sometimes with B4RN, sometimes with a colleague. We get B4RN out, because we know some places are solid rock, they’re never going to get through it.
And B4RN was quite clear from the start. They’d rather go several 100 meters around through an easily ploughable field - and just use a mole plough - than they would try to peck through 50 feet of rock.
But…sometimes I could have done without it and sometimes it’d be quite nice to actually get out and about leave the desk and do the leaflets. Yeah, that dedicated team has been super, I have to say, because they’ve all - of that nine kilometers, they’ve all taken a section in pairs, and they’ve all sorted the wayleaves and all the local leaflets. And that’s why it’s got done so quickly, because everyone has done something.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Speaking to other people, other communities have a couple of people that are really driven and dedicated but not enough people like ours that will actually go out and do things. So that’s, yeah, that’s been the big thing, I think, really.
And did you have to do any negotiating with anybody? It sounds like it was actually a really easy process and most people just said, yes, right off the bat. But was there any people that needed to be a bit more convinced?
Yeah. BT have taken some of the vouchers and installed to various areas of the valley. BT paid. So ther had been a couple of people asking, ‘What will you pay off?’ and we just explained from the start it’s a not for profit company, it’s to benefit the School, the church, the village hall. And that was the end of the conversation really. So once they’ve asked the question they’ve accepted it; everyone is very community minded 'round here. Except for that noe git. But um, I’m trying to think… we’ve negotiated the routes, but I wouldn’t call them negotiations: We’ve talked to the farmers and they said, well, there’s a waterjet in that field, or there’s a culvert there, you’d best avoid that bit. So it’s not so much a negotiation, it’s a discussion, but they’re happy for us to use the land but they’d preder us to go around that boundary and that side. So actual negotiation, no, not many at all, really.
And the one person who’s been a bit of a pain, getting it through, did you all make an effort to try to convince that person?
No, he’s got quite a reputation. He doesn’t live in the valley or in the village. And he’s got quite a reputation as an awkward git; I would git. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when he said no. One of the group knew him from working with him previously and said, ‘well, the best way to approach him is to actually just lay it out bluntly and then he’ll just give you a blunt answer’. And the blunt answer was no, but we’d already seen it coming and had alternative routes in place. Because when you look at his answers, his reasons for saying no, that there’s no, there’s no valid reason for them, he’s just been awkward.
Yeah, yeah. And how do you… Oh, sorry, sorry, carry on? No, I was just going to say, how do you, how do you personally view the internet - as a technology, as a resource? What do you think of it?
In terms of as a head teacher for kids?
No, I would say kind of personally for you.
I don’t know really. I mean, I rung my school from my phone. So with, you know, smartphones nowadays, but as a kid growing up in a similar village, the concepts of computers at the time would have been completely foreign. You know, I left primary school before the school had a computer - but kids nowadays, they grow up with it, dont they? So I don’t know. The amount of emails and things through Twitter, and LinkedIn, and things that I send, and use for communication, I don’t think I could replicate any more with phone calls and letters. Certainly makes things a lot easier in some respects. But yeah, I do leave the phone behind when I take the dog out just to get away from it.
I’d say overall positive. But personally as a head, I’m quite wary of the dangers with it. It’s positive overall. But yeah.
What do you see as some of those dangers?
To me, personally, I think I’m worried mostly about fraud, and online fraud. I’ve got my parents set up for online shopping and things just before lockdown and during lockdown. And obviously, you get such realistic emails now from companies that are scamming you, really. I mean, it’s, it’s almost normal stuff. And I’m quite savvy myself, and I know who doesn’t have an Amazon email address not to click on it, but it looks like an Amazon email. So that’s…I’m worried about my parents really, and my daughters now with email accounts. But that’s my biggest worry personally. Professionally, it’s still the safeguarding issues, of course, but what you have to do there is you have to educate them, because they’re never going to be away from the internet now - it’s here to stay, short of an apocalypse. So it’s better to educate, and use it safely, than not let them use it really. Sometimes we do, and sometimes I will actually buy a paper book to read and we’ll make the kids use the library, as opposed to an app because some get a bit lazy sometimes; it is too easy to go on the internet sometimes. And it’s not always accurate. So you have to consider the source, whether it’s personally or professionally, you have to consider that source of information.
Kids’ perspective is quite interesting. Sometimes they’re smarter than you and sometimes they really don’t realize phishing scams and things like that. But I think, yeah, most kids now when they start school have been on a smart device by the time hthey’re three because the parents have an iPad and things over the years. Some of the kids pick up things so much quicker than us.
Yeah. Do you, do you run any specific digital literacy programming in the school about these kinds of issues? So alongside just learning how to use the platforms, do you have kind of any program of…digital awareness, education, something like that?
We do regular work with them. And we tend to use… I think what it’s called is ‘Be Internet Aware’, I think it’s called, which is a Google one. But we do touch on a lot of things, from the UK safer internet center, I think it’s called. We find the kids aren’t so much, but the problem is the parents. So I spoke to a couple of parents recently and they’ve got the kids set up on Twitter. I haven’t actually clicked it…they, they followed my account as opposed to the school account, and my account gets quite angry and political. And so I’ve had to say to the parents that they are not supposed to be on Twitter until they’re 13. And the parents say, ‘well, we didn’t know that’, and I say ‘Well, I’ve sent letters home when it’s on the school website and they’ve issued leaflets and paper copies so I mean, that’s all we can do here’. But the kids, the kids know that! But no, we have some, um, obviosuly we’re filtered, so certain websites can’t be accessed, certain things will not get through the filter system. And we only install software we’re comfortable with and with the kids through their Google accounts we use a lot of different software programs and things. And we always teach them not to give their personal data other than the user account away. We also do a lot of work with them that ‘if you get an email, and you don’t know who it’s from, what do you do?’ and things, and they’re very good. So yeah.
But there isn’t kind of like a, for instance, a dedicated period of the day or the week in which you cover things like that? It’s kind of as in when it sounds like?
Um, it’s regularly done every year, usually, at start of autumn, we will have a whole school Internet safety day.
I see I see.
So parents and families get all the information, and they have to sign forms to do it. And then over the course of the year, I would say, depending on the age, they’ll get one or two sessions, usually each term, on Internet safety, but it is constantly refreshed to them, especially as they get older, and they’re using more and more online stuff that if you ask them, you know, and generally speaking, by the time you get to the older classes, you’re saying it, but they already know it. So yeah, there’s no specific program, and there’s no weekly or daily things. But yeah, all the kids know who to come and get if something happened and there is regular ongoing learning over the course of the year, just to refresh and remind them of ages, really.
Yeah, yeah. It’s just actually something that I’m kind of interested in a bit separate to B4RN is this digital literacy in schools. And so because you’re head teacher, I thought I’d kind of pick your brain about that a little bit, because I was kind of curious about it.
So it’s something we’re aware of, yeah, digital, and cultural capital. And I think the cultural capital and making kids aware of other, different communities and things I think, you know, Google education suite [inaudible] through computers and things is a big thing. So yeah, I remember a school from Liverpool coming here, took them two hours. And they arrived, and I said ‘you alright?’, and they said ‘Oh yeah, we’ve seen sheep grazing!’ And because you know, they don’t see them in the middle of Liverpool. Now, we went there. And the kids were so excited to pass the Walker’s crisp packet factory.
Because you don’t get that in the country, do you? So it’s nice for the kids to communicate with them through emails and things when we’re not doing actual physical visits. But yeah - cultural capital, digital literacy, are big strengths that are supported by the Google education suite, really.
And I think going back to where it all started, I visited a school in Wales, called Cornist Park School. And there’s a lady there called Kelly Williams, who’s not there anymore, but she has been working with the Welsh Government, because the Welsh and the Scottish Governments are way ahead of England in terms of online learning, and things like that. And basically, overall, the Welsh government’s approach to IT in schools was that kids become digitally competent so they’re happy using a range of devices and a range of software on those devices for a range of tasks. And that’s what we kept trying to do here and introduce a few new things evry term, but there’s hundreds of things come through every week, so you can’t do them all.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that makes sense. It’s a challenge to stay on top of everything all the time with digital.
Well it changes so fast, doesn’t it? Yeah, but, yeah. They just look at me like I’m an ape when I say ‘we didn’t have computers at school’. You know, it’s changing so fast. But then when we do something with a company called Steam School, really cool. A lady called Jake Moon, and she gets people from around the world to do video conferences with you, and the other week was Industrial Light and Magic. You know, George Lucas and Star Wars?
We’ve got other ones about hover bikes, and the Google Glasses and things and some of the technology that, you know, the kids thought - and I thought - was way in the future has actually been around for a few years now. It’s quite alarming how people are using these hover bikes in America. But yeah, we think we’re advanced now but we’re actually, there’s a lot more advanced stuff to come, I think.
Sure, it’s kind of shocking, yeah. But it sounded like from what you were saying earlier that your personal internet connection at home isn’t actually very fast.
Yeah. So are you going to be getting a B4RN connection as a result of this project?
Well I’m one of the villages for this crossway - then there’s Crook, and Underbarrow, and Winster. They would be the next few villages that would hope to get it through.
Actually, as of last week, I’d asked B4RN ‘at what point can we contact these other villages and get them to contact you’, and we’re at that point now because crossway is sufficiently advanced that it’s almost definitely going ahead. We have to get that crossway before we can get to them. And whether it will or not, I don’t know, because they’re very sparsely populated. And yeah, a lot of rural areas. But if they don’t get it through B4RN, I don’t see them ever getting it.
So I live in a farm two miles of the car track, you know, it’s… nothing’s coming to us unless it’s dug in by us and B4RN.
Yeah, so yeah, that’s that’s maybe a little ways down the line for you but it’s probably coming in at some point. Yeah.
Hopefully within the next year or two. Yeah. But I mean, we get up to 15 megabytes on a really good day, but generally around 3 or 4.
And I’ve got two kids, I have to teach. I’m on the internet all the time. So when you’re at home in the evening, I think we’re limited to 100 gigabytes, and we’re paying 60 quid a month. On top of a phone line, you just think, because the girls are always on Disney Plus or on the Google accounts or on Prime or whatever else we got, 100 gigabytes only lasts a couple of weeks.
And after a couple weeks, the company rate-limits your downloads to two megabytes. So you want to download a film, or something, you save it one night and watch it the next night, you know?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But yeah, we’re quite keen to get B4RN for ours.
I’m sure. Yeah.
If it doesn’t get here it’s not going anywhere. So yeah, I think we’re now at the next stage of looking at the next few villages.
That’s brilliant. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. And obviously you’re the head teacher at a school that’s very kind of wired, in a sense, because you’re this Google reference school. And but do you feel that in the process of working with B4RN and trying to get this connection to the school and the surrounding area, that you’ve learned anything new about the internet that you didn’t know before?
No. I mean it’s interesting hearing about the cabinets in the ground and the switches, but it’s really, you know, it’s just an installation thing, isn’t it? It’s…
The hardware. Yeah, yeah.
We did get training on the different cables and the ducting and things like that.
Twice, I think. We just all sort of sat there nodding. The idea of the training’s that you go out and show the farmers the different types of cables and colors and things. But the farmers out there aren’t interested, just about the way leaves. So no, nothing, nothing really.
Yeah. And I suppose like you said that B4RN will be digging the connections in for you so you actually don’t really need to know that much about the ducting and the cables and things like that, because it won’t be too heavily volunteer-driven.
Well, I was interested in the training we had the other week. And they sort of said at this training, ‘when you and your team start advising each individual resident about how to install it to the house and where they want it installed, you’ll need further training’. Well we didn’t know at that point, we were actually advising all these houses. That was interesting. We thought we’d get it to the school, and that will be it. No, all these 200 people are going to sign up will want [inaudible] which will come from us apparently, but having spoken to Sue, our B4RN lady on the ground, she said, ‘what you’ll find is that the vast majority of people will just tell whoever’s installing it just put it where the last one was’, and we’ll get very few calls - I hope!
Yeah, you didn’t realize that you were going to have to be IT help for 200 people. Yeah. And is it about 200 properties that are also getting B4RN in that area, or what’s the numbers?
Well there’s 400 in the area, in the parish, and about half of them have had their vouchers taken by BT for previous installations. Of that 200 that are left, we need to get up to 100 signed up. I think it’s we need to get 60 signed up initially, and we’re up to about 75-80 already. So we know we’re nearly there, and it’s pretty much at the stage now where we just need to go and knock on a few doors for people that we know that haven’t filled the form in yet. So yeah. Yeah, that would cover all the costs of the installation.
Yeah. And what has that process been like under COVID? You did mention this kind of a little bit earlier, but um, I’d imagine it’s been a little bit of a challenge to have these conversations and get everything signed?
Um yeah, I suppose it has. I mean the group meetings in school, because it’s work, it’s been allowed. We’ve actually said from this Friday we don’t really want them in school now because it’s going back into national lockdown. And even though officially, it’s allowed, I don’t want to be a school that’s closed down and the parents start saying ‘we had those 10 people on Friday, what was that about’? And so we’ve moved to zoom on Friday. But in terms of all we’ve done really that will be different from what we’ve done in non-COVID times is that we’ve had the conversations on the doorsteps at a distance. Whereas even with the people, you know, in the past, you’d go and have a cup of tea and just sit down with them. So it’s I suppose in a way, it’s made it harder like that. I don’t think it’s caused that much issues in terms of time or signups or anything. Just the new social awkwardness, really isnt it? Yeah, no, nothing. Nothing major. But like I said, at the start, it would have been good…because you have village drop-ins and community drop-ins where everyone comes in and sees something in the village, or it would have been really useful to be able to put something up without having to answer the questions rather than actually answering the questions individually at houses, but we covered that with the leaflet drops to a large extent, I think. Yeah, it would have been easier without COVID, that’s for sure.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I don’t suppose that you’d be willing to share one of the leaflets with me if you’ve got a copy of it, somewhere?
I’ve got your email, haven’t I?
I think you do, yeah, I put it in the Twitter. Yeah.
I’ll send you a couple of our emails. Because we did one, um, this was an interesting thing actually. We did one and on it, it says there is no obligation to anybody to take up B4RN. And then, of course, when you actually see the government signup form, there is an obligation. So I had a conversation with B4RN and said, ‘look, I’ve sent this out to the local community with my name on it, saying sign up to get us a voucher. There’s no obligation for contract.’ And I said, ‘That’s not right, is it?’ and B4RN said, ‘No, we’ve had this before. It isn’t really right - you can leave after a month, no exit fee’. I said, ‘but they’ve still got to sign up and pay 30 pounds’. And they said, ‘Well, people aren’t going to sign up just to support the school, M-’, and I said 'no, actually ‘round here, they will! It’s a rural community’. And so the second leaflet has provided further clarity on that. I don’t think it’s going to cause much of an issue, but you’ll see on the leaflets, but yeah, that annoyed me about B4RN a bit. Because when they said to me, 'we’ve had this problem before you think…‘Point it out!’ Before i send the leaflet out saying there’s no obligation, no contract.
Yeah. Yeah. And the 10 of you who are kind of like the core core volunteer group, you had to go around and actually put the leaflets in people’s doors?
Yeah, we looked at using Royal Mail. But I think it’s 500 pounds and a minimum of 2000 leaflets., and for the sake of 400 leaflets, between 10 of us, I mean, wasn’t much. I mean, it was a couple of evenings or afternoons work. Most properties are up a track. I was in the car as well but um, I did worry at one point myself and Andy, we were driving around in the dark and I thought ‘someone’s going to report us’, because essentially we’re two blokes wandering round farmyards in the dark, aren’t we? So yeah, a couple of nights we actually stopped it early. Because it was pitch black. But yeah…not been a problem.
Yeah, yeah. And then the process, just to briefly return to the wayleaves the process, once you’ve got somebody agreeing to the wayleave is you’ve got a piece of paper that they need to sign. And then you as the volunteers collect those signed papers, and then what happens with them?
The signed wayleave agreement is the agremeent which is accompanied by a map. So the map is a map of their land parcel with the routes that we propose after discussion with them. That’s signed, scanned in here, and we send them on to B4RN.
Yeah, just by email?
Just scan it into my email. Yeah, no problem at all. Relatively simply, really, with technology.
Yeah. And you said that you’re hoping to break ground in your village in March-ish. Is that what you were saying?
It has to be installed to the school by the end of March, or we lose that 35,000 pounds. We’re asking the question of B4RN now, ‘When are you starting?’ Because we’ve got the wayleaves and the signups to that stage where actually they could be digging the ground. Understnadably, they won’t start actually plowing the cable and ducting until they’ve got sufficient signups. But we’re there now. So yeah, if they haven’t started by the end of the month, we’re going to be wanting to know why, really.
Because I’ve got to give my notice, my BT line at school, which is the 4000 pounds a year, I’ve got to give it a quarter ahead of when it’s due to expire. So I’ve got to do that by end of December. I’m not keen on doing that until I know that they’ve started ploughing. So, but I know, B4RN are obviously a very popular company becuase they’re doing brilliant what they’re doing. So they’re short of people with mole ploughs that do the work, so, that might be the next year, I think, that it’ll happen.
Yeah, yeah. And all this effort that you all have had to put in to put the leaflets out and get the wayleaves and have the chats and all that stuff. Do you feel like it’s been worth it?
Now that it’s going to proceed, yeah. Yeah. Everyone keeps coming back to the meetings, you know, start of Friday I’m thinking ‘I wonder who’ll turn up?’ and everyone’s come to every one, and a couple more people have joined. And it quite surprised me when I asked last week about the next few parishes. Straight away, there’s a few hands saying ‘we’ll help’. Because a lot of these people are retired. And I think they’ve quite enjoyed getting to do a project to be honest, that they can do in their own time, you know?
So no it’s been quite satisfying, to be honest. And because I haven’t been leading, I can just sit at the back of the room, which is a nice change, really. And just do what I’m told to do. So yeah, I’ve quite enjoyed it.
Yeah. Have you met anybody you didn’t know before? Have you pretty much known everybody?
Um, I’ve met a few locals I didn’t know. A few grandparents that own farms and lands I’ve spoken to on the phone and that I’ve seen when they collect the kids, but I’ve not had a chat with, you know? So I’ve actually, yeah, so from a social perspective it’s been nice to meet a few people in person whose name you know, and they know you or you know, you’ve seen them in church or a village hall function or something. So, yeah, and because it’s been pretty much 100% positive, it’s been quite a pleasant experience.
That’s really nice. Yeah.
That’s great. Well, I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to talk with me today. And I don’t want to take up any more of your time, because I know that being a head teacher you are very busy! So um, yeah, so I, I’ll, I think I’ll leave it there. But if you do send me an email with the leaflets, that would be brilliant. And if I, if I think of any follow up questions or anything like that, would it be okay, if I send you an email about that?
Absolutely. I think what I might do is I might email you the Facebook group link.
But a group full of leaflets on anything.
And then you can keep an eye on what goes on. It’s probably easier than trying to find a PDF of something.
Totally. Yeah, that’s completely fine. Yeah.
I’ll send you that now. But yeah, any questions, just send them on.
Brilliant! Okay. Awesome. That’s great. Well, I do really appreciate it. Really nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you, too.
And good luck with the project. Yeah.
Same to you!