As an external contractor working alone for four primary schools I'm still unsure exactly whether or when BSF will affect me or more importantly my schools. What I can pass on though is the effect a centralised IT support system has had for those schools through their LEA IT support service. These comments are paraphrased but genuine gripes that headteachers and staff had at each school regarding the service.
Invariably the school had to raise a ticket for the simplest of problems and then wait for someone to call back. Often the return call was made days later when the original request was forgotten and the ticket details were next to useless because the teacher didn't know the technical vocabulary to explain what they needed/wanted
In one school an issue was dealt with by four separate technicians and in every case the situation had to be re-explained every single time only to be left unresolved. The technicians each left providing either no or limited explanation on what they'd done (if at all). Result: no fix.
In one school the broadband contractor had been in to install 99% of the equipment required to provide the school with a broadband connection. This equipment sat unused for 6 months before I entered the scene and asked the question as to why the school was still using ISDN when broadband was available. Nobody knew what had been done nor had anyone bothered to visit the school to connect the patch cable that was required to finish the job
In every single school I've started by taking the long list of software the staff wanted installed on the computers and getting it on the systems. Repeated requests to the IT support team were ignored or resulted in the usual confusion so people stopped asking.
In pretty much every school, every single printer was an inkjet and with only one exception they were all clogged and covered in dust due to lack of use or basic servicing. Nobody bothered to explain how to use or maintain the printers and ignored the advantages of centralised printing (to networked photocopier, laser, etc..). Instead the cheapest inkjet had been sold to each school class.
I could go on... The bottom line is that every time I've mentioned the ugly rearing head of BSF to any of my headteachers they look horrified and these stories are repeated with emphasis on "never again!".
I've already had a chat with Diello to explain that the following is not personal, merely playing Devil's Advocate to some of his response.
If we take a large company that has been formed (or sections of it have been formed) purely to deal with educational contracts then they are no longer your typical private sector IT company. They are an education IT company. The whole tactic of attacking companies because they are private sector shows a lack of understanding about some of those that are bidding and winning contracts. Ramesys and RM cannot be said to be anything other than education companies. VT4S is nothing and education team funded by a financial backer. Don't throw mud by casting doubt on the ability of these companies to be educationally biased. The consultants that they are using are the same folk who would be giving advice to the LA directly under PFI or any other major project.
Yes, they also use consultants from other fields, but that happens all the time in education and is not limited to IT. And it happens quite successfully thank you very much. The whole methodology of assessing the top heads is done on a business model ... and these are the folks that run the best schools!
Back to education. Why, oh why would a school, an LA, a Govt Qango listen to a small group of people with limited experience and a limited portfolio of success. The general view will be that if we were any good we would be consultants and be employed by LAs and the bidding companies on things like BSF ... but we are not. Why? Is it lack of opportunity? Is it lack of qualifications? No, it is because we presently have no standards in place that shows that we are reaching a set standard. Even if we could set a standard we also have to accept that the school wil be measured by the Govt targets and no matter how good we think we are, unless we are in good or outstanding schools, with the best results ... then what right do we, or the Senior Management in our schools, have to say that we know best?
right ... I've put on my asbestos trousers and ready to receive the roasting.
Ok ... I admit, the above contains more generalisations than is healthy, but short of the suggestion from grommitt of the support being under LA control with a few uber-NMs to consultant and get things on the right track there is still no serious contender for a solution ... and this is presuming that those uber-NMs have their heads seriously switched on for education, have political know-how to deal with and work with Heads and LA folk.
So ... which of the above points do people think are out of order?
The thing that I missed from the above is the fact that we are still not giving LAs enough flack about the business plan. *That* is where the issues stem from and needs to be tackled.
As soon as you know your LA is working on it then you need to ensure the your head or someone with the know-how needs to get involved!
…as GD should – this is exactly the fight we have with BSF supporters – no point hiding from it.
That is a fair point to a limited extent. Obviously those winning the contracts are not going in blind, and do have an on-paper understanding of the differences between the needs of education, and the needs of business, in IT usage. However, the on-paper understanding is no where near the reality of what goes on in schools day-to-day. One fact is indisputable – these companies are NOT charities, they are businesses, their primary aim is NOT education, their primary aim is to MAKE MONEY, as winners of a BSF contract, to MAKE MONEY from EDUCATION. You can’t serve two masters. The only “lack of understanding” I can see is if we’re wrong, and these companies are in fact turning into not-for-profit organisations, otherwise they remain businesses, whose aim is to make maximum profit, from minimal outlay. Further, these companies may have a set of “how schools differ to businesses” requirements, but they have no on-the-ground knowledge, no idea what the reality of providing day-in-day-out IT services to a school involves.If we take a large company that has been formed (or sections of it have been formed) purely to deal with educational contracts then they are no longer your typical private sector IT company. They are an education IT company. The whole tactic of attacking companies because they are private sector shows a lack of understanding about some of those that are bidding and winning contracts.
They’re educationally biased in the fact that they offer products, for a price, to the educational market. Those within schools can then take the decision to part with an amount of money to buy into that product. The aim remains the same – those companies are responsible to their shareholders for making a profit. The school retains control. Under BSF, the school will be forced to buy a product it doesn’t necessarily want, that might well actually damage students education, as opposed to advance it.Ramesys and RM cannot be said to be anything other than education companies. VT4S is nothing and education team funded by a financial backer. Don't throw mud by casting doubt on the ability of these companies to be educationally biased.
Well… indeed… and that’s hardly been a rip roaring success has it? The problem with these “consultants” is that (my turn for sweeping generalisations), at best, they’re ex teachers with at least a little handle on IT in schools, but have rarely actually done the job in a school. If these consultants were actually previously successful school IT Managers, then fine – but in my experience, they’re not.The consultants that they are using are the same folk who would be giving advice to the LA directly under PFI or any other major project.
…or if we were any good… perhaps we would want to make a difference to the future, instead of simply making money. “If you’re a good IT Manager you’d want to work for a large IT services company, if you don’t, you’re crap” – would be a pretty daft statement.Why, oh why would a school, an LA, a Govt Qango listen to a small group of people with limited experience and a limited portfolio of success. The general view will be that if we were any good we would be consultants and be employed by LAs and the bidding companies on things like BSF ... but we are not.
Because the SM in a school has years of teaching experience? Have spent their lives dedicated to providing education to future generations? Know what is required to teach? What right do IT Managers in schools have to say what’s best for IT in schools – because we do it for a living, because we’re there, right now, providing it.what right do we, or the Senior Management in our schools, have to say that we know best?
Turn the question on its head – What right do profit-making IT services firms have to tell a school what resources it should have to teach students? To tell teachers, school management, educational IT Professionals, that they’re wrong, and that their company whose been thinking about teaching & educational IT for 5 minutes, knows better than people who have been living and breathing it for years?
I grant you that LAs vary greatly – but I can think of a handful of people in my LA who have a clue – putting things in the hands of the LA isn’t necessarily a good idea either.but short of the suggestion from grommitt of the support being under LA control with a few uber-NMs to consultant and get things on the right track there is still no serious contender for a solution
You mentioned RM above – and that makes a good point – those of you with experience of dealing with RM think for a moment – take yourselves out of the equation, no IT professional in your school – now imagine RM now also have the role of managing the schools network, doing what you used to do – I’ll leave you pondering on that one… (and for the record, I rather like what RM offers to an extent, so this isn’t a slight on them, just a way to get you thinking of the reality of what’s coming)
None at all – I think they’re the points BSF supporters make – doesn’t make them right though, just as me saying mine doesn’t make them right. It’s a case of deciding which is the most likely scenario.So ... which of the above points do people think are out of order?
Last edited by Diello; 11th March 2008 at 09:19 AM.
As ever Tony you make eloquent, concise and, what seem like valid points. However, I think your points fall down on two major points.
Firstly - Although companies like Ramesys, RM etc. are educationally focused, this doesn't make them "no longer your typical private sector IT company." A "typical private sector company" exists specifically to make money for its owners. Although this is a point that has been raised many times before, regarding not just BSF but all PFI projects, I believe that this is the crux of the issue and why PFI projects have performed so miserably around the country in many public sectors. These companies wish to drive profits and this is invariably achieved by drives to efficiency (also know as ‘cutting costs’). This can only have negative effects on Teaching & Learning in schools.
Secondly – You seem to believe that the use of consultants is normal practice and it is. However, currently these consultations are driven by the LA or school involved. The school or LA is able to achieve what it wants for its own needs, whilst garnering the best of private sector knowledge.
Under BSF the consultancy will change. The consultants will suggest and implement the technologies and practices that benefit them and their employers. This has been borne out in, for example, the fiasco of the NHS IT Project where Capita were paid billions to implement the system – and then paid billions again to ‘consult’ on fixing their own problems. The amount of public money, our taxes, that has been thrown at consultants is sickening.
The pitfalls of PFI projects have been stumbled upon again and again by this government and I see no reason to believe that this project will not go the same way. A top-down approach that’s not taking into account the experiences and knowledge of those on the ‘front-line’.
Too much jargon, bureaucracy, consultants making a pretty-penny, ivory towers, political games, white elephants….
Last edited by mortstar; 11th March 2008 at 12:44 AM.
One of the 'tricks of the trade' in getting repeat business is to pick a perfectly acceptable process or operation within the clients business and try and pick holes in it, at the same time suggesting that 'they' or their fellow consultants were experts in the field and had a much better way of doing things. If they can do this at senior levels within the organisation by selling the benefits at a high level then more often than not it becomes a 'done deal' by the time the troops got to hear about it. The more radical the proposal, the least likelyhood the client would have the skills & knowledge to do it themselves.
Get your buzzword bingo cards out ... I expect to see a full house from this next bit.
Edugecation projects that consultants work on can be catagorised to some extent. You have projects look at instilling change, projects looking at preventing change, projects looking at rolling out methods of change from other projects and not forgetting projects looking at reversing the change that was made by a previous project.
The reasons for the projects vary from Govt agenda, a measured requirement (usually based on a Govt agenda or target), socio-economic factors (funding is available due to a Govt agenda or target, or to fix something that a Govt Agenda or target has cocked up) or even a need identified by a group (usually deemed a research project, once it is proven to be a good thing it becomes a Govt target or agenda item!)
Good consultants will work on a project from inception, through delivery and then onto analysis. A large number of education projects do have logical follow-ons ... but often they are just a case of topping up to make sure thing are still going the way the should be. These reviews are what should be the bread and butter of LA and School leaders ... but they are not, for whatever reason it is deemed better to have someone who has been reviewing things in schools and LAs elsewhere to do the same reviews for you.
Again, a bit of a business model from other sectors, but surely there is nothing wrong with following a model and tweaking it to do what you need?
And so we get back to the same circular arguement ... and this is the one where we look at the arguement of taking a business approach to IT in schools.
We are often found to bemoan the lack of vision that schools have to support their IT. No model of sustainability, limited training, poor pay, etc. We then have thrown at us a business model based on industry practices, central helpdesks that are ITIL based, core services based on enterprise design and using enterprise hardware ... and we then say that it doesn't fit the needs of an educational establishment.
Those who have looked at the Technical and Functional Specification for IT Infrastructure from Becta have not ripped them apart as rubbish. We are likely to say that it isn't possible to implement them due to the lack of funding, no vision for sustainability, etc ... but if a company comes in and implements a structure based on these documents then which parts do we not agree with?
It comes down to operational issues ... nothing to do with the technology available. It comes down to arguements about how we think we can support the school best.
Again ... I would point out that there is no measurement for this at this time, and no criteria for what makes IT good in a school other than if IT was bad a school would not get good results or do well at OFSTED.
It is clear that we don't want consultants telling us what to do, and the thought of us being consultants means that we might be seen as selling out and forgetting the importance of our school ...
It is also worth remembering that the consultants that are doing work for schools and LA are doing it on behalf of companies such as Tribal. Whether the business is from the LA / School or from a BSF bidder it makes little difference, they still have to have a certain amount of revenue earning in there. There is surprisingly little difference between the two.
A business model where people like Ramesys, RM, VT4S, Capita, etc come in and tell you what to do, remembering that if it does not work then they will not get further contracts ... and these are companies that cannot afford to screw up these projects right now, both on a commercial and political level.
So, if you don't want a business based model, and you don't want a consultant telling you what to do, what do you want? (the choice of being left alone is no longer available since this is a politics thing and someone has to show accountability somewhere!)
Netman's contribution should definitely be published.
Netman (11th March 2008)
…and we know what a nightmare outsourcing has been for a large percentage of the organisations that try it, don’t we. We know how central helpdesks work… don’t we… and surely we know, a central helpdesk, sitting in a phone queue for half an hour, just to have your call logged, when little Johnny can’t logon to the computer, and the Toner Drone has changed his password, but it still doesn’t work, is not a reasonable way to run schools ICT.We then have thrown at us a business model based on industry practices, central helpdesks that are ITIL based, core services based on enterprise design and using enterprise hardware ... and we then say that it doesn't fit the needs of an educational establishment.
Quite so – what is written in Technical Spec at least (haven’t actually looked at the Functional Spec… must do that) makes for a good read.Those who have looked at the Technical and Functional Specification for IT Infrastructure from Becta have not ripped them apart as rubbish. We are likely to say that it isn't possible to implement them due to the lack of funding, no vision for sustainability, etc ... but if a company comes in and implements a structure based on these documents then which parts do we not agree with?
However - 1) many schools already offer a comparable infrastructure, the bits they don’t offer can be down to the fact they’re simply not required at that establishment. 2) a Ferrari F430 is a brilliant car, however it if takes too long to fix when it fails, if there’s no aftercare to ensure it can be used effectively, then it is effectively worthless. By all means use industry specs – however, then adapt those for educational usage based on what actually goes on in a school, not on what you think it does, or should do, but how T&L actually happens. Involve the people who know what they’re talking about, because they do it. Understand that a school needs professionals, on-site, with the access to make necessary changes, who are accountable to the school.
They’re ignoring the needs of the school now, what makes you think that they will suddenly start listening when the new contracts come up?A business model where people like Ramesys, RM, VT4S, Capita, etc come in and tell you what to do, remembering that if it does not work then they will not get further contracts ... and these are companies that cannot afford to screw up these projects right now, both on a commercial and political level.
Exactly the point – it’s a politics thing – nothing to do with education. Fine – put a company in charge of it, but do it in a way that makes sense – involve educational IT professionals, bring them all under your hat, don’t just TUPE them because you have to, actually use their knowledge to build something that serves the needs of the school, understand that you then need to delegate the flexibility of that system to the individual schools, so put one of your IT Manager (who have the experience) inside the school, with the control necessary, make them accountable to the school as well as to the umbrella company.So, if you don't want a business based model, and you don't want a consultant telling you what to do, what do you want? (the choice of being left alone is no longer available since this is a politics thing and someone has to show accountability somewhere!)
That way – you have the measurable reassurance that specifications are being followed, the economies of scale from purchasing, the reassurance that if said IT Manager gets hit by a bus that there are scores of others who understand the basis for the system like the back of their hand, whilst still giving schools the control to innovate and tailor, and the support they need to do their jobs effectively. Don’t ignore the end-users and the professionals, don’t take away everything from the school that gives them the ability to innovate and deliver effective IT in lessons. Problem is, this would cost them more money wouldn’t it… and that’d hurt their profits… wouldn’t it?
In Education Capita own the single most dominant MIS and it is apparent that they will try to earn money any way possible from the SIMS system. (Extortionate database access licence anyone?)
The experience of many PFI projects which involve these large corporations have shown that they are only interested in the profit and even when they have messed up, they are employed again as they are the only ones who know the way out of the tunnel they have dug.
On a different point:
Nobody here in Coventry has said what happens after the 5 year contract. The funding from the government will have run out and, in theory, schools will have fully integrated IT into their buildings and curriculum. They will also have lost their IT Professionals as they are now employed by the Managed Service company. Where is the sustainability?
Last edited by mortstar; 11th March 2008 at 01:13 PM.
Good point about the 5 year contracts, anyone have any ideas what happens then? What if the same company don't keep the contract. Are we tupid back? Will schools be able to afford to take back there technical staff? They can't even agree on a site for my school yet so it may be 5 years before we get a new school!!
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