The installation of a digital two way radio system is helping an academies trust better protect the children in its care whilst improving staff communications.
ESSA Foundation Academies Trust turned to Pennine when looking to overhaul internal communications systems across its sizeable Bolton campus. The site hosts secondary and primary school academies, as well as a nursery, to serve well over 1,000 pupils.
ICT manager Paul Gartland was keen to modernise communications which had previously been reliant on mobile telephones. Despite the trust’s location in urban Bolton, signal coverage could be erratic, meaning that both every day and, crucially, emergency communications could be compromised.
“We needed to overcome a number of safeguarding and communication issues,” he explains, noting that in the current climate schools need consider situations and protocols that in the past would not have been on the radar.
… We’ve not seen a system that is as robust and works as well as this right across the Trust.
PAUL GARTLAND, ICT MANAGER, ESSA FOUNDATION ACADEMIES TRUST
“Following recent terrorist events we were looking at a lockdown scenario and how we would implement it. Today it’s common for every school to have a lockdown procedure.”
Grim as those comments are, they’re grounded in an awful reality. In spring 2017 colleges in neighbouring Bury and Tameside were both put on lockdown after receiving threats via social media. Thankfully both proved to be hoaxes, but nonetheless the authorities had to act swiftly to protect students and staff.
To ensure ESSA could respond appropriately and effectively, Gartland asked Pennine to devise an effective and affordable solution. The company recommended installation of a system comprising an antenna, receiver and a single Hytera RD965 digital mobile radio (DMR) repeater to ensure the whole site benefited from strong signal coverage.
These would support some 30 Hytera PD375 compact digital two-way radios for use by teaching and support staff.
It’s a solution that has proven particularly effective. Despite the sprawling nature of the ESSA site the signal quality is, says Gartland, “amazing.”
He adds: “We’ve not seen a system that is as robust and works as well as this right across the Trust. We can now communicate anywhere on site all the way up to the road, without any break in quality.
“It’s really opened up the lines of communication.”
… I’ve always had a good experience working with Pennine
The radios are used by a broad range of staff, from teachers on gate duty through lunchtime supervisors, caretakers and the site team responsible for estate management. It has, agrees Gartland, provided an “efficiency bonus.”
Staff are also much better placed to respond with incidents which can blight the day in any school, even ESSA where Ofsted has rated both the safeguarding and behaviour of pupils as good.
“We have first aiders for medical events who are now equipped with radios and also staff on call to deal with any behavioural issues in the classroom. Our year heads too so that when they are outside of the Academy they can communicate with each other all around the site.”
The system is integral to ESSA’s emergency lockdown protocol. Each handset features a panic button, as do the fixed mobile handsets now installed on the reception desks of both the secondary and primary schools.
“Those panic alarms and the emergency broadcast channel help us to communicate across the two sites,” explains Gartland. “If we had an incident where we have to go into lockdown, in addition to telephones we will have radios so we can keep lines of communications open on a secure channel.
He points out to that preparation for events which may be statistically highly unlikely is recognised good practice. “I think Ofsted would certainly be interested to see that there is a lockdown procedure that can be implemented. It obviously proves that you’ve taken safeguarding seriously and thought about a plan should something happen.”
He’s pleased too with how Pennine’s engineers handled the system’s installation. “All the radios were preconfigured and the channels set up for us. It was seamless,” he enthuses.
This mirrored his wider experience with Pennine whose Unified division were also responsible for the previous installation of an IP telephony and unified communications network at ESSA.
“I’ve always had a good experience working with Pennine,” he confirms. He likes too the company’s unique position in the marketplace courtesy of its broad range of specialisms. These help keep the supply chain simple and responsive.
“Whenever you work with third parties it’s easier the fewer there are. It gets really messy and complicated if you have to deal with many different suppliers.
“If you’re looking to do things involving telephony, radios and AV, if one company can handle all those kinds of projects, it’s wonderful.”