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Courses and Training Thread, Defining our profession in Training and Courses; Originally Posted by alttab i think it's slightly complicated by the fact that many primaries don't have a full-time IT ...
  1. #46

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    Quote Originally Posted by alttab View Post
    i think it's slightly complicated by the fact that many primaries don't have a full-time IT tech on the payroll. They could buy in a day a week from the LA schools service, from an IT provider [individual or group] who serve a cluster of schools,

    even those schools who have a full-time tech/NM can just as easily be reliant on an external provider for anything more substantive than day-to-day troubleshooting. And that's where the complication is...service provider might be working to a set of professional standards but they have no control over how the NM/tech on the school payroll undertakes his or her duties.

    So a wifi install, an infrastructure design refresh, they're at the mercy of whichever external supplier they choose being able to deliver a right-sized solution at value for money. Many of them are much more reliant on the LA than secondaries, so they may pay a premium but safe in the knowledge the LA [in theory] isn't going to leave them in the lurch.

    there may be guidance, but there's no onus on schools to follow anything to do with FITs or any other set of professional guidelines, this has only been exacerbated i guess by their not being a government body to oversee this, and with more and more schools moving to become academies and even more scope to go their own way. But yet still be seeking out the LA to take a lead, as that's all they know and have experience of.

    There are massive opportunities for people who know their stuff to deliver an ICT service to schools and lead a primary school or cluster of schools on issues to do with ICT provision. Those folk with that type of experience who work towards a set of professional standards is a good thing, because if nothing else it could be the minimum a head or bursar at a primary need to remember when it comes time to go out and seek someone to provide IT support or deliver a one-off project or when they as an academy school advertise themselves.
    I don't actually get the continual usage of external contractors to do everything remotely complicated. We get that sometimes here where we have full time High school techs/NMs getting in external companies to do everything because 'Exchange is complicated"/Wireless is hard/etc. Its more alright for primary school techs who may not have as much experience but I do end up wondering what these people are actually paid to do as they seem to offload anything more complicated than changing a mouse.

    I have installed Wireless/SAN/Virtualisation/Switching/Cabling and sitewide OS upgrades etc. I'm a primary tech, I just wonder how many of these high school NMs get their jobs and keep them when they keep bringing people in for everything.

    This is where standards become meaningless as these types are usually the ones full of their titles (as I have experienced) blanking lowly primary school techs even though many of us are from the looks of it 100's of times more capible than they are. When these are the people controling the expectations and perceptions everything is elevated to the level of magic and so anyone under their influence generally wouldn't know a skilled proffessional if they were confronted with one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SYNACK View Post
    I don't actually get the continual usage of external contractors to do everything remotely complicated. We get that sometimes here where we have full time High school techs/NMs getting in external companies to do everything because 'Exchange is complicated"/Wireless is hard/etc. Its more alright for primary school techs who may not have as much experience but I do end up wondering what these people are actually paid to do as they seem to offload anything more complicated than changing a mouse.
    i think it's a real hotchpotch. Some schools do quite a lot of their own infrastructure installs and do it well, others will offload stuff like wireless but do other upgrades themselves. And others as you say, elevate everything that requires a bit of planning to the level of voodoo.

    I personally haven't come across much that i haven't been confident in doing myself.
    Where i think the lack of confidence comes from are those who aren't encourage to break things and fix things [in a lab environment obviously] and subsequently learn through doing on the job, or who don't spend their own time doing that. I see it from the point of view of my colleagues who've never touched a lot of the stuff that i've done...if there's no requirement for them to do that stuff because mgmt don't want or need them to, or they've got the budget to go external because these days backside covering is very popular. Then they'll never know because they've never had to.

    Some technologies are about getting some fundamental concepts which at first seem difficult nailed. Once the light goes on, then you can be cooking on gas and a primary or secondary tech can have the ability to deploy stuff that an external contractor would charge thousands for. Because a lot of the time we're not talking about enterprise level complexity or scale, so why not have people who can deploy a two-node virtualization cluster with SAN storage, or a 25-AP managed wireless, the guides for doing so are freely available. It's about cutting out all the fat that exists and getting to the bits that deliver you a working solutions, i think that's what scares a lot of IT techs. That a white paper here says they need to do it like this with all these steps. And they don't identify it as overkill because of the lack of experience.


    I have installed Wireless/SAN/Virtualisation/Switching/Cabling and sitewide OS upgrades etc. I'm a primary tech, I just wonder how many of these high school NMs get their jobs and keep them when they keep bringing people in for everything.

    This is where standards become meaningless as these types are usually the ones full of their titles (as I have experienced) blanking lowly primary school techs even though many of us are from the looks of it 100's of times more capible than they are. When these are the people controling the expectations and perceptions everything is elevated to the level of magic and so anyone under their influence generally wouldn't know a skilled proffessional if they were confronted with one.
    the focus these days is on selling a service to schools, a lot of bodies that used to get funding now need to employ the hard sell and compete. So there's even more self-interest in vying for the attentions of primaries and secondaries with a bit of cash to spend. So something as basic as a small wireless solution or a simple blog-style website, is elevated to something that can't be done in-house, when it can. There's so much compeition out there, but increasingly leaders and managers want the easy choices to make because they've still [incredibly] got the budget to overspend.

    and increasingly to me it's down more to who you know rather than what you know. So if it's a subjective thing of how good is a website that someone can produce for a school, someone might feel they can do a better job than the folk chosen. But the folk chosen got the nod because they get their foot in the door, attend the right meetings, know the right people, and although offer it overpriced don't offer it scare-them-away overpriced.

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    alttab and SYNACK, I agree. There are some schools where an outsourced solution in one area, or indeed outsourcing all the IT, will work and work well, though I tend to find this is the minority.

    In my school I do most of the jobs that I'm aware other local schools have outsourced (such as the Windows 7 / Server 2008 R2 upgrade, moving to virtualisation, e-mail platform upgrades, etc.), because I have that skillset myself, but then again I currently outsource something as simple as our projector repairs (to a very competitive provider in fairness) as I don't have that skillset myself or within my team. As alttab says, it's a hotchpotch of skills in schools. This is perfectly understandable when you look at the circumstances though: because schools often don't employ people in separate IT roles with separate specialisms, you end up with the particular (i.e. specialist in whichever direction) skillset that the NM and the techies have acquired in IT so far. Absolutely nobody knows everything about IT, and businesses know this (and have the money!) so they employ multiple people with varying skillsets.

    This is why I started off with talking about a general training programme covering what it is that schools actually need from their technical staff in terms of skills. Entering education with a sysadmin skillset, I was rather surprised to discover a projector sitting on my desk waiting for repair one morning back in the beginning. I've never explored that side of IT (or, in fact, AV) technologies as - after all - what 3rd-line systems engineer will be spending any time resoldering printer or projector components? Or even, in a larger enterprise, dealing with users at all for that matter?

    In schools, all or most of the roles to be found in a medium-sized business do exist in terms of IT: support analyst, desktop engineer, sysadmin, physical networking, web designer (sometimes), database admin (for when SIMS/PARS cocks itself up and needs manual SQL adjustments to hold its hand), hardware engineer (for that nasty internal sparking a projector will make when it's showing signs that it really shouldn't be in the immediate vicinity of 30 kids), etc.

    True, the actual workload for most of these roles simply isn't sufficient to employ all these people individually, but then that means you end up with a small team (or in my case, just me as there's myself and an apprentice) that has whatever skillset they happen to have acquired so far, trying to do everything. This is why it can sometimes go wrong and why the school may end up outsourcing something. The problem is that, just because you might only have to fiddle with one area once a year, say, the skillset you need to do it is the same as if you had to fiddle with it once a day! And this is the problem.

    I do think the current trend needs to reverse. I believe we need to move secondary education towards a different ethos for their IT staff, whereby all or most of the projects required can be handled in-house. We could then adopt an approach for primary education whereby a local secondary will have a cluster of primaries that it assists in this manner - it may charge them something for this but nothing like what an external supplier would charge. Naturally this would only be the case for primaries without in-house technical support or where the support skillset needs supplementing - which is by no means true of all of them!

    I'd imagine that, in order to achieve this, some changes would be required:

    * First, nationally raise the salary level of school IT posts in general, to a level where all of us are actually valued for what we do on the paycheque, plus when we move on the school might get someone else in who can actually do the job, instead of just starting again with a new boy as many do;
    * Second, nationally implement something similar to the modular training programme I described in my OP, so that any missing skillsets within the team can be supplemented;
    * Third, locally agree school clusters for mutual support - and I do mean mutual, because primary techies have innovations to offer a secondary environment as well, as others have said;
    * Fourth, nationally cease the view that everyone who is not a teacher is "merely supporting teaching" as, particularly for the NM, that isn't what the bulk of the actual work involves at all, thereby raising recognition of the fact that IT facilities nowadays are in many cases not just supporting a business process any more, they are that business process!
    * Fifth, reminisce at length about the time when we needed EduHobnobs...

    Actually, looking at it, that's probably in the wrong order. It's also very pie-in-the-sky as I wouldn't have much in the way of ideas as to how to go about some of it (though I do about the rest). But maybe, if anyone else agrees, someone else does?

    BCS?
    Last edited by Ephelyon; 23rd June 2012 at 01:31 PM. Reason: Addition regarding workloads

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    [QUOTE=Ephelyon;844374]
    Fourth, nationally cease the view that everyone who is not a teacher is "merely supporting teaching" as, particularly for the NM, that isn't what the bulk of the actual work involves at all, thereby raising recognition of the fact that IT facilities nowadays are in many cases not just supporting a business process any more, they are that business process!
    while i hate the catch-all here-to-support-teaching-and-learning stick that we get beaten with, it's hard to convince particularly at a political that everything the school does isn't directly or indirectly about supporting teaching.

    We note that IT systems are a business process in themselves, but surely they only exist because they need to support the core business...whatever that may be ?

    While i like the idea, and have seen examples of good secondary school ICT teams able to offer support in some capacity to primaries, in the era of austerity i'd struggle to imagine it'll be the norm that schools will go down that route. who knows, i've seen ICT teams in moderate sized schools which had NM's, Asst NM's, IT tech's, Grads...go from there to needing half that complement because they're able to virtualise, take advantage of the TCO benefits of Windows 7 and newer software. Or maybe things have just been left to slide. Obviously those in larger schools with stretched budget might shout otherwise. I can see the next big thing will be the use of apprentices to provide dogsbody support in reduced capacity ICT teams, although i'm sure there are plenty of apprentices with an aptitude that will see them add value well beyond that of dogsbody. But in some cases it'll continue to be peanuts on staff if not peanuts on ICT provision and continued patronising of the ICT role in schools. oh well.

    that's my biggest bugbear, the suspicion that there are school leaders and managers in education who don't want to be responsible for an ICT support team, that's under line management and pay and conditions of the school itself. They don't mind communicating at length and being responsible for finance and admin staff and other support functions..just not ICT, Sometimes makes me wish i'd gone straight into being a profession that was a core business function - teacher, widget salesman, professional mangler. IF only to get the respect, a voice and the possibility of progression.

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    * True, it's very hard, and therefore, by definition in this case, it's unlikely to come from the internal ancillary staff. If you do try telling your Head that, they'd probably just think you weren't a team player or some other rubbish, which is ludicrous as the whole point is that we are recognising the whole team, not just the part of it doing the service delivery. It's like in my analogy further back: the people making (and, in fact, designing and selling) the furniture are doing the service delivery, but that company still wouldn't view its HR department as existing solely to support them; they exist to support everyone. This is like IT, because we exist to enable everything.

    * Indeed, that may be the overall purpose of their existence, but there is a subtle distinction between the purpose of something's existence and the be-all-and-end-all of its existence. As in our case, the system needs to be up and available even during the 25% of the year when there is no teaching and learning going on, so that tells us that actually it's there specifically to enable other things as well. Of course, I'm not saying that IT is not here to facilitate teaching and learning... I'm just saying that it's here to do that plus the same thing for many other core and ancillary functions as well. The problem with this relentless focus on T&L is that everything else gets forgotten, especially when school leaders often can't relate (understandably) to anything except the T&L in the first place. Schools often prioritise by exclusion of everything else, whereas they ought to start off with a balanced view of all processes and functions and then apply extra focus where necessary, while making sure this doesn't knock anything else out of the picture. If that means they can't prioritise the T&L as much as they would like, that's tough. They'll have to do better in other ways.

    * Yes, true, the money is a problem here, but to be honest I'd have thought that if the school cluster pools all its available money for IT provision and staffing and this is viewed as a single unit, they'd end up making savings between themselves as they're sharing knowledge, experience and talent (not to mention salaries!)... this is also the kind of direction that Michael Gove has hinted schools ought to be going down in other areas, so he might be receptive to this kind of idea in principle.

    * This is what the education sector needs to realise now. Gradually, over the past couple of decades (in industry), IT has become a core business function in itself, by virtue of the fact that it now has its own concerns that are self-generated. This is because it has had to start meeting the needs of multiple different departments, whose priorities may be perpendicular to one another (accessibility versus security, to take a common one). Consequently, the department, in collaboration with upper management to ensure compliance with corporate protocols and visions, then needs to generate its own service provision that meets as many of these needs as possible as effectively as possible, because only it (as opposed to the other departments individually) hears all of the disparate needs and concerns together. This means it is now a process both in and of itself. Meeting the needs of one department = supporting it, plain and simple. Meeting the needs of all departments... now that's a separate function because you have to unify everything together under one flag. Education now (as opposed to 10 years ago) uses its IT in the same way that a medium business does, and I mean in exactly the same way. So now (and only in terms of its IT provision), it needs to start working to the standards established by the sector that bore the technology in the first place and knows how to manage it properly: business. Even healthcare's grasped this one.

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    It all sounds lovely but my question is - why would schools bother to implement any sort of plan like this?
    There are many, many primary techs, part-time like me, who struggle along with no training and no money,(paid more than a TA, yes, but not a lot!) doing stuff that many a (possibly junior-but-probably-paid-more) tech in a senior school never sees (from setting up GPO to sorting out buying of equipment to speccing up new wireless etc). We cope. We have to bring in external companies sometimes - perhaps due to knowledge issues or, more likely, time constraints.
    They reap the benefits and things work.
    How will we ever change that?

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    Andie (24th June 2012)

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    A good point, witch: on their own, no, they won't bother.

    They'd have to be convinced from higher-up that this is a good idea and the way to be doing it. In other words, they'd have to be made to. This is why I think we would need to look at making representations to BCS, IET, government people (Ministers for Education and those responsible for the nation's ICT strategy, which apparently does exist), Local Authorities, etc. That's the only way it would work. We would have to establish recognition of our cause and links with more important people and bodies first. Some members of this forum do have contacts up there I believe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ephelyon View Post
    A good point, witch: on their own, no, they won't bother.

    They'd have to be convinced from higher-up that this is a good idea and the way to be doing it. In other words, they'd have to be made to. This is why I think we would need to look at making representations to BCS, IET, government people (Ministers for Education and those responsible for the nation's ICT strategy, which apparently does exist), Local Authorities, etc. That's the only way it would work. We would have to establish recognition of our cause and links with more important people and bodies first. Some members of this forum do have contacts up there I believe.
    Problem with government mandates, at least here is that they are open to being adapted into tools for 'interested parties'. How it works here is the clueless who run things ask 'trusted' industry partners to spec what is needed or in essence write down what they would like to provide that loosely fits the bill and honors their interests. The govenment then mandates this and claims that it has got input from everyone that matters and a generally substandard product that diverts a huge amount of money into the 'trusted industry partners' pockets is implemented.

    I have seen this happen again and again due to the lack of clue possesed by the people making the decisions and the blatent smarmy behaviour exhibited by the 'chosen' providers. I imagine the ones that provide the best bribes get the most input.

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    Very true!

    I suppose the only way to make it work would be to ensure it's all kept inside the public sector and specify that as a core criterion for success when making our various representations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by witch View Post
    It all sounds lovely but my question is - why would schools bother to implement any sort of plan like this?
    There are many, many primary techs, part-time like me, who struggle along with no training and no money,(paid more than a TA, yes, but not a lot!) doing stuff that many a (possibly junior-but-probably-paid-more) tech in a senior school never sees (from setting up GPO to sorting out buying of equipment to speccing up new wireless etc). We cope. We have to bring in external companies sometimes - perhaps due to knowledge issues or, more likely, time constraints.
    They reap the benefits and things work.
    How will we ever change that?
    Thank you! I was planning on saying something similar myself further up, but couldn't quite get it to sound right...and then started thinking that maybe it's just me doing things this way and managing somehow... So it isn't just me and my situation and the way I feel about the job! What a relief! And I guess we are going to struggle to get school management to change while we're doing a good job on so little. However, I would still welcome access to a basic set of recognised qualifications. Although I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances, I could make fewer mistakes and do things a lot quicker if I had the right training and it should be possible for school management to realise this. It's hard at the moment to find the time to work out what the best qualification would be, with so many around. A professional body that laid down a basic set of training would help me to go to senior leadership and make a sound case for some CPD.

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    witch (24th June 2012)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andie View Post
    Although I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances, I could make fewer mistakes and do things a lot quicker if I had the right training and it should be possible for school management to realise this. It's hard at the moment to find the time to work out what the best qualification would be, with so many around. A professional body that laid down a basic set of training would help me to go to senior leadership and make a sound case for some CPD.
    i think that's it, exactly. When i've worked under situations without the guidance of an experienced technical leader or not received the training, i've found that i've managed [because you have to right ?] and possibly learnt more than would be the case had it been outsourced because i've had to deliver....but i've always been under the suspicion that i could be a lot more efficient, and there was always room to improve how i was setting up a system or process[and if only i knew what that better method was!! aside from coming on to a forum and getting several different answers]
    Or just seeing how other folk first hand have set things up and choosing the best bits.

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    Ephelyon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andie View Post
    A professional body that laid down a basic set of training would help me to go to senior leadership and make a sound case for some CPD.
    Quite so!

    That's precisely what I'm trying to see if we can achieve here. To get a national qualification and pay/career structure in place (which would be considerably easier if it weren't on its own, but rather part of a broader rethink of school support staff pay and conditions like the SSSNB's original remit included), so that people like Andie and witch can get a better deal and have their interests represented. On the 'representation of interests' score, and because the scale of it would require some leaning much higher up (i.e. central government, or at least local government), I therefore think we might find it interesting to hear from people like BCS. Maybe there could be a deal whereby they'd be willing to make the case as long as those of us who are interested become members, which I for one would be quite willing to do if it would help to make it happen.

    @GrumbleDook, do you know if there have been any rumblings in that direction of late?

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    This is something that Trevor at the FITS Foundation is trying to start off - a Professional IT Association or Insititute for Educational IT Staff to assist with this sort of stuff.

    However the FITS foundation needs to know what volume of technicians would join such a body if it were created? To get support for anything like this they need to have firm evidence that there is a need for it and that a lot of people are crying out for it. To get agreement for it to be an Institute you need Government approval and to get that they need to see that it fills a real need.

    I've posted a thread/poll here, please answer.

    Thanks
    Last edited by wagnerk; 24th June 2012 at 06:24 PM. Reason: link added

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    Thanks wagnerk, a very useful idea!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ephelyon View Post
    Thanks wagnerk, a very useful idea!
    No worries, the development of the it profession is something I believe in.



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