Check school infrastructure

Having a secure and strong internet connection is key to ensuring a successful digital exam experience for your students.

We’re working with Network for Learning (N4L) and the Ministry of Education to help schools and kura be confident about the capacity and reliability of your digital infrastructure for the level of NCEA Online participation that is right for your students. Part of this is completing a Network Assurance Check, which will help ensure kura and school’s readiness to participate in digital external assessments.

What’s involved in a Network Assurance Check

N4L works with a panel of 10 trusted IT Partners. This panel will carry out this year’s free Network Assurance Checks to support kura and schools' readiness for NCEA Online.

In May 2021, N4L contacted all kura and schools that offer external assessments to ask if you would like to opt into a programme of work for a Network Assurance Check. This check, which will take place throughout June and early July, involves:

  • assessing the performance of your kura or schools’ network
  • checking general internet speed
  • identifying any WiFi dead spots
  • a review of Network security.

Following the Network Assurance Check, your school or kura will receive a Findings Report. This report will detail technical capabilities and suggest areas for improvement - that will help to enhance the efficiency and security of your network so that you can prepare for digital exams.   

Virtual local area networks (VLANs) and Whitelisting

For a secure, authentic and positive experience, we recommend the use of whitelisting, which limits student access only to the digital exam platform and NZQA’s website.

So that this doesn’t affect the rest of the school or kura, you’ll need to segregate your network traffic. This can be done in different ways depending on your setup, such as setting up a VLAN.

Further information

You can find out more about Network Assurance Checks and general network security and performance on N4L’s website and in their video, which highlights interviews with schools.       

Common questions 

What is the cost of a Network Assurance Check?

Network Assurance Checks are fully funded by NZQA - there is no cost to schools/kura.

Who will complete Network Assurance Checks in 2021 and when?

N4L works with a panel of 10 trusted IT Partners. This Panel will carry out this year’s free Network Assurance Checks to support kura and schools’ digital readiness for NCEA Online.

These checks will take place throughout June and early July.

How do we register our kura/school’s interest in getting a Network Assurance Check?

In May 2021, N4L contacted school Principals and Principal Nominees to offer a Network Assurance Check. If you didn’t receive this email, please contact N4L as soon as possible at nceaonline@n4l.co.nz so you can be added to the programme of work.

Is the Network Assurance Check the same as last year? If so, why do we need another check in 2021?

Your network performance can change over time so having another Network Assurance Check is like having a regular WOF.

It’s worthwhile reviewing any changes in factors such as student participation, use of classrooms, or technical setup. It’s also a good way to test that any improvements made by the school or kura are effective.

It’s important that kura and schools decide on which rooms will be used for NCEA Online ahead of time so that the Network Assurance Check can identify how well the network is working in the rooms that will be used for the exams.  This is important to ensure the best digital exam experience for students.

Can our kura/school’s ICT department/IT lead carry out the check?

No. This year N4L’s panel of IT Partners will manage the Network Assurance Check process and will work closely with the kura and schools to ensure a consistent quality outcome.

If kura/schools weren’t able to implement some/all of the suggested improvements in the 2020 Findings Report, is there any point in doing a new Network Assurance Check this year?

Since the last Network Assurance Check, there may have been some changes in the kura or school’s digital environment following Covid 19 lockdowns, and the need for kura and schools to continue teaching and learning online.  Some kura and schools may also be planning for exams to be held in another location at their premises.

A Findings Report issued after Network Assurance Checks are completed, will highlight areas of strength in your network and suggest areas for improvement. If the findings are the same as 2020, the report can strengthen the case for prioritisation in your planning.

What support is there for kura/schools to implement the suggested improvements detailed in their 2020 Findings Report?

The Findings Report will suggest improvements that could be made to your school’s digital infrastructure that would increase your school’s confidence and ability to deliver digital assessment. These improvements can be included in your school’s infrastructure improvement planning (capital plan).

What work is the Ministry of Education doing to upgrade schools’ infrastructure? And how do Network Assurance Checks fit in?

Check out the Ministry’s website with information about their Te Mana Tūhono programme to support schools to monitor, maintain and manage their networks.

The Ministry is partnering with N4L to provide small and remote schools, schools with the oldest equipment, and schools who choose to offer NCEA exams online, the opportunity to opt-in to receive equipment replacements as first priority.  A Network Assurance Check will help you to consider whether your kura or school should opt-in to the Ministry programme.

When will the 2021 Findings Report be available to schools?

N4L expects Findings Reports will be shared with kura and schools approximately 6 weeks after the completion of their Network Assurance Check.

A copy of the Findings Report will be shared with your School Relationship Manager.

How many Network Assurance Checks do you expect to complete in 2021?

Last year a total of 208 Network Assurance Checks were completed. We won’t yet know how many Network Assurance Checks will be done, but we are expecting more in 2021 as schools move to offer digital exams.

What are the benefits of implementing a virtual local area network (VLAN)/whitelisting?

The benefits for schools/kura and students of these arrangements include:

  • VLANs improve network performance by separating part of the LAN, so that a portion of the overall bandwidth is dedicated for use by students sitting exams 
  • VLANs separate exam traffic from other internet traffic to help minimise the impact of the restriction on other parts of the school
  • whitelisting helps manage security and authenticity
  • whitelisting supports students to have an authentic and positive exam experience and prevents potential security breaches so that they can’t inadvertently go to other websites or access web services like auto translate browser extensions. The students’ access is limited to only those websites and features allowed during the exam period (i.e. digital exam platform and NZQA website).

Is it compulsory to have whitelisting for digital language exams?

For a secure, authentic and positive experience, we recommend the use of whitelisting for digital language exams. This limits student access only to the digital exam platform and NZQA’s website.

So that this doesn’t affect the rest of the school or kura, you’ll need to segregate your network traffic. This can be done in different ways depending on your setup, such as setting up a virtual local area network (VLAN).

How do I find out about installing a virtual local area network (VLAN)?

N4L will not be implementing VLANs as part of the Network Assurance Checks programme of work. However, they may be able to advise where your kura or school is placed in the Network Hardware Replacement programme that is currently underway.

What technical support is available on digital exam days?

Schools with their own technical staff should plan to have people available on digital exam days for things like helping a student with a device issue or if an exam room has connectivity issues.

What are some network tips for exam day?

  • Make sure you have technical support available during the exam, either on-site or off-site.
  • Prioritise the digital exam traffic. Restrict use of the network in year 9 and 10 classes and other connected devices, for example phones.
  • Segregate your network, especially for larger digital exam sessions.

  

Student using computer

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