Broadband boost to help North Yorkshire's deeply rural schools deliver lessons
More than 20 rural primaries in North Yorkshire are to access the provision, under the multi-million pound Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) initiative.
Many rural schools in North Yorkshire have faced particular challenge over recent years, with falling pupil numbers and now with teachers attempting remote learning.
The broader ambition, said North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), is to ensure the region can be “future-proofed” for modern times, particularly in delivering education online.
“North Yorkshire is the country’s largest county and we regularly face the challenges of ensuring that our rural areas are not disadvantaged by their remoteness when compared with our urban centres,” said County Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for access.
“High-quality digital infrastructure is one of the county council’s top priorities and we are making substantial investments in broadband and mobile telephony.”
Headteachers at some small schools had previously raised concerns over a gap in provision, warning poor access to home learning in rural areas could lead to a two-tier system.
North Yorkshire’s rural commission, launched last year to reverse rural decline and support communities to grow and prosper, raised the challenge in calling for greater support.
High-quality broadband provision should be viewed as a basic human right, such as running water and electricity, its commissioners warned last month.
A broader scheme has already seen internet access improved for 180,000 homes and businesses across the deeply rural county.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Government wants to bring gigabit-speed broadband to the whole of the UK in the next five years.
The RPG scheme, from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and delivered by the county council-owned firm NYnet, will see schools benefit from speeds of up to 100Mbps, with the capability to be upgraded to 1Gbps.
Ten remote primary settings are seeing work progress as part of the first phase, with a further six schools identified.
Among the first to benefit is Tockwith Primary Academy, with headteacher Justin Reeve saying it is critical to ensuring his pupils can access the same opportunities as their urban peers.
While still geographically remote, he said, they are no longer “technologically isolated”.
“At Tockwith, we have always embraced technological advances, but the internet speed has always been a limiting factor for us – not any more,” he said.
“We currently have 165 Chromebooks in the school, so the new broadband connection will have a significant impact for us.”
Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman said: “The Government is making sure rural primary schools are among the first to be connected as part of our plans to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband, and we’ve pledged a further £5bn to bring these faster internet speeds to the hardest to reach area of the country.
“I’m delighted that many more pupils and teachers across North Yorkshire will soon enjoy the learning benefits that this next generation of connectivity will bring.”
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