Durham castle

How Durham County Council ICT School Services is delighting its schools with Smoothwall Filter

The challenges

Durham County Council ICT School Services now procures Smoothwall Filter and Firewall for 233 schools across the region. Prior to 2017 each school had their own firewall and though filtering was managed centrally, it was very basic. With no content-aware capability, pupils were at risk of exposure to harmful content. A lack of granular controls also meant that if a URL was unblocked then all schools were affected. It was a one fits all solution and the Council recognised that this wasn’t in the best interests of anyone when schools have such a heavy reliance on web based content.

In 2017 they committed to improving this situation and embarked on a radical overhaul of their filtering provision.

The solution

John Taylor is the Managed Service Team Leader at Durham County Council ICT School Services. He comments: “Some of our secondary schools had purchased Smoothwall Filter independently and were reporting great success. Though the purchase was ultimately a Procurement decision with a full market review, the fact we had a number of schools already using Smoothwall reduced the perception of risk significantly.

Whichever solution they chose had to work across the Council’s diverse network of schools and devices. From schools with one classroom and ten children in rural areas, to large flagship secondaries with 1700 students. Some had Windows, some had iPads, while others had Chromebooks. It was a myriad of need.

I can’t speak highly enough of Smoothwall. From our side, it’s been a breath of fresh air, a fantastic product for our customers.

Managed Service Team Leader
Durham County Council

The Council wanted an ‘out of the box’ solution with the opportunity to tailor it for each school. They knew that while schools were increasingly utilising web-based products for learning, they were doing it to varying degrees and the ability to customise and service each school individually was key.

John explains: “Every one of our schools is different and flexible controls were important for us. We wanted the ability to create as many groups as needed. Not all our schools permit YouTube for example. Some have ‘out-of-school clubs while others don’t. It was a varied mix of requirements.

Installation

Once the decision to purchase Smoothwall was confirmed, the Council wasted no time in getting the installation underway. They set a tight timeframe of 2 months to install 230 boxes. Smoothwall assigned two senior leaders to project manage, who visited frequently and had weekly conference calls with John and his team. Smoothwall gave the Council a template for all schools to use but which could be customised.

Continued John: “Smoothwall allocated the resource needed to meet our deadline. We had two on-site engineers during proof of concept. Once we had perfected the installation and configuration ourselves we had a direct line to a dedicated engineer throughout. We met our deadline. It was superb teamwork on both sides.

Not all plain sailing

Going into their second year the team began to exceed the tolerance levels of some hardware and it began to fail. John knew he could depend on the Smoothwall Team. An engineer was assigned and in partnership with the Durham Schools Team developed a swap out strategy that would see the failing hardware replaced in the shortest time.

John goes on to say: “We fixed the issue with minimal downtime for our customers. You can tell how good a company is from how they deal with difficulties and Smoothwall exceeded our expectations. They are an extension of our team. Their door is always open.

The outcome

Durham County Council ICT School Services have a stable of happy schools when it comes to filtering. As each school’s direct contract comes to an end they now purchase through the Council contract and benefit from their bulk buying discounts.

Schools also benefit from detailed reporting. Where previously, when a report was needed, schools had to request a time period from the previous solution which could result in a spreadsheet of tens of thousands of IP addresses not targeted to any user.

Explains John: “Now we give the power to the school. Each DSL has access to the reports and alerts they need and are appropriate. Our schools are over the moon with their reporting.”

The future

The Council are keen to build on their filtering success with Smoothwall Monitor and help their schools develop robust digital safeguard cultures.

Asked whether funding would be a concern, John was emphatic: “You just have to compare the cost of Monitor Managed Service over 3 years with the cost of a senior person looking through the alerts everyday to realise how affordable it really is.”

He concludes: “I can’t speak highly enough of Smoothwall. From our side, it’s been a breath of fresh air, a fantastic product for our customers. We’ll be with it for many more years and look forward to new releases and hopefully feeding into them.

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