In defence of technicians…

This morning Mark Anderson (ICT Evangelist) posted a new blog entitled “The problem with technicians“. Now whilst I agree with a lot of what Mark said in this post, I also felt that perhaps my experience and point of view would be able to tell the story from the other side, so to speak. I feel that having worked as an IT Director in schools for the past 8 years, as well as having been seconded to other schools to analysis and resolve their ongoing IT issues, and now also having taught in the classroom for the past two years; I have some insight into the issues Mark talks about which I felt I wanted to share.

I will structure this post in terms of the points I agree with Mark on, where I differ from Mark’s view point and what I think the best solution for supporting IT in schools is.

So firstly what do I agree with…

  1. IT folk can be like the golden key holders when it comes to technology and they can make the place like a dungeon if they hold the keys too tight.
    This is something which I have seen time and time again in IT support in schools; the “gatekeeper syndrome” I like to call it. More-often this is something I see with the IT / Network Manager than the technicians (although I feel this attitude is contagious!) and to me I think it is often most prevalent when the IT Manager feels threatened about the change they are being asked to make.
  2. we can’t move to the cloud because the Government say so
    This is just straight up FUD! Again linked with the insecurity that the Network Manager may be feeling in regards to the proposed change. The reason that they get away with this so often is because too often the person given responsibility to line manage the IT support team does not know enough about IT themselves (more on that later!).
  3. without the correct thinking behind these choices all you will end up with are some very expensive bookends
    This is so absolutely crucial with all strategic planning in schools, especially IT. I have seen too many classrooms fully kitted out with IWBs and all the latest gadgets for them to just sit there gathering dust. If it is not enhancing the learning and teaching why is it there?

So where do does my perspective differ from Mark’s?…

  1. Some schools, in fact in many schools, it is the job of a teacher to be network manager
    I cannot honestly agree that in this day and age a teacher can be expected to, nor have the time to, run a school network to level which modern technology requires. Now we are not just talking about ensuring the teachers can use the tech in their classrooms here; a modern school network now needs to support a myriad of different uses:

    1. supporting the admin team and the school’s MIS
    2. site wide WiFi and potentially BYOD
    3. ensuring compliance with the school’s Data Protection obligation
    4. ensuring all data is securely backed up
    5. ensuring the Internet filtering is fit for purpose

    Should this really be the responsibility of a teacher as well as their teaching commitments? Certainly not a teacher without a whole load of management responsibility and a very light timetable, anyhow!

  2. Many schools buy into managed services for their technology through a company such as RM … In many schools, the technicians will veto this in what often appears an effort to maintain the status quo and keep them in a job.
    My experience of managed services for IT in schools has obviously been a different one to Mark’s. I find that a managed service can often be restrictive for the school as they can only pull down from the shelf those services their provider can offer. A flexible, supported and adaptable IT support team should be able to respond to the changes and requirements quicker than many managed service providers could, especially if you are wanting to innovate, be creative and explore something you have not done before.

So what do I think is the best solution is for supporting IT in schools…

  1. The IT Support team needs to managed by someone with technical experience and knowledge of the systems required to run a network
  2. This person should sit very close in the hierarchy to SLT and be the “go to person” for SLT about any technical query
  3. It is the duty of this person to ensure they stay abreast of both the changes in EdTech in T&L as well as more general technological issues
  4. This role needs to be given the support and authority by SLT to form working parties with all areas of the school, admin team, HoDs etc. to ensure that there is a clear route for all areas of the school to get their desired approaches and use of IT into the whole school development plan
  5. This person does not necessarily need to have teaching experience, but at the very least they should be comfortable with providing training programmes to their peers. That said I think it would be wise of schools to allow the person in this role the chance to teach too – It always helps to see things from both sides of the fence!
  6. The school has a duty to ensure that the person in this role has the opportunity to access quality CPD to ensure they stay up to date with what technology can do in the classroom
  7. The Governing body and SLT have a duty to ensure that the required capital funding to support the developments to educational technological provision are meet and regularly tabled and discussed

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say that there are too many examples of bad IT Support teams in schools; however to lay the blame on the doorsteps of often very low paid, under-trained and under-supported Network Managers and Technicians does not seem fair to me. Yes ,these roles can be a stumbling block to effective IT provision in a school, but I think the strategic / leadership roles and decisions need to be made first before a school has any real chance of succeeding…

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