I will start with a fair few paragraphs of waffle and (perhaps!) eventually wrap it up into an idea.
I have been thinking lately about "where we're at" with IT in education at the moment. It occurs to me that, as has happened with many fields (or branches of fields) in the past, there comes a time when it needs to "professionalise" itself. Let me make it clear at this point that I do not mean to say that we "aren't professional" (bisley98, anyone?), merely that we often find it difficult to justify our knowledge, skills, experience, rationale or priorities to our colleagues because there is no clear source of this information for them to corroborate it with. In "the industry", many of these problems are mitigated by, in my view, a more developed understanding of the place of IT within, say, a corporation.
It seems to me that the major ongoing issues might be summarised thus:
* Pay not commensurate with duties;
* Misguided attitudes from other staff (though this may be reciprocal!);
* Profession not clearly defined;
* No clearly-defined entry route into the profession;
* Lack of training.
In fairness to the current situation, 10-15 years ago IT was primarily a curriculum resource used to support and facilitate teaching and learning, with some admin workstations bolted on to use/manage the school MIS and etc. It has since evolved into a central resource - functioning at an organisational level - that enables the functioning of the entire school, including large parts of the curriculum and the majority of the administration work. There are many schools that would largely grind to a halt if the IT system were to go down for a day (or two).
The difficulty is, most people in education don't know this. We know it because it's our job to know it, but how many schools that are lucky enough never to have experienced e.g. a total (though temporary) system failure before, or a catastrophic loss of data, have truly realised how dependent they have become?
Can we blame them for not having caught on yet? In a sense, not really. Because, to be fair, there was a time when a school's IT facilities (or at least all most staff saw of them) were primarily there to support teaching. There was a time when an IT technician could quite fairly be classed as a member of the classroom support staff like a Science, Art or D&T technician and would quite reasonably report to a teacher. Nowadays the system is there to serve pretty much everyone, and additional managerial roles such as Network Manager have been created (which is a plus and we shouldn't forget the recognition we've managed to glean there). The priorities are different; the balance of necessity has changed (security, reliability, central management, structure of responsibilities). So why doesn't everyone know this? Well, teachers (and senior leaders, other support staff, etc.) are busy people too - maybe it's just that nobody told them in those terms.
However, it's not just on the admin side that things have changed - the uptake of IT within the classroom has evolved dramatically as well. I left school a decade or so ago. I went to a reasonably successful and well-off state school. Yes, we had a cute little RM Connect 2.4 network. What we didn't have was projectors in classrooms; we didn't have any interactive whiteboards; we didn't have a computer in every room; we didn't have electronic registration; no Parental Engagement Portals, no internal e-mail, no digital signage... you get the picture!
The technology to support this is changing too. At the school where I work, our previous networks (one for curriculum, one for admin) were powered by three old-school tower servers - Server 2003 and WinXP. Now, it is a fully virtualised environment (VMware) running on HP blade servers - Server 2008 R2 and Win7 - with about a dozen server VMs powering a single-domain network. We run Exchange 2010, SQL 2008 R2, WDS, PARS, Backup Exec, SmoothWall, etc. This is a very far cry from where we were, and a lot of it changed over only a couple of years.
We are responsible for managing, maintaining and developing the technological backbone that keeps a modern school running. We are often the only people in the organisation (up to and including the Head) who have responsibility over (i.e. access to) all of its data. Again, in fairness, this isn't how it was a couple of decades ago, but it's how it is now. What do we find, however? Our pay is either stagnating or falling. A Network Manager in my region, however, is paid, on average, about £1K a year less than an NQT at the start of their career.
Many of us would like to change this, but it's difficult when Single Status has already taken root in many regions, the resources available to senior leaders to evaluate our skills and competencies are limited and there is no clearly-defined career entry or progression route.
Speaking of skills and competencies, IT is a vast field. Software development, database management, networking, system administration, user support, web design... it is possible now to build up an entire career's worth of knowledge and experience in any one of these specialisms. In a school environment, however, you need to know them all. It might only be bits of them all, but schools have certainly been known to encounter problems that would vex a professional with 10 or 20 years' industry experience in their subfield. At the moment, schools hiring IT technicians or Network Managers tend to get a bit of a "mixed bag" as regards their new employee's exact competencies. Furthermore, I don't know of anywhere currently that would advocate or recognise educational IT as an occupation (or sub-branch) in itself. But really, it's a very different breed from working in industry, or in healthcare for that matter. There's a very good post by "ITPROFESSIONAL" on this page that illustrates what I mean here:
Help! I want to kill the Network Manager - ICT - TES
So, the idea then. I would propose an accredited training course, modular and available at various NVQ levels, specifically tailored to what schools actually need from their IT staff. I'd imagine the foundation might consist of something similar to the following:
PC Service and Support Certified Professional
(It used to have a Server 2008 module as an elective, which would've been better than the current range I think. I'm sending my apprentice through this accredition over the course of this year.)
Added to which could be core and elective modules on things like school support work in general (drawing on e.g. the current "Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools"), to help technical staff gain a better insight into the needs of teachers and pupils; maybe a module on projector repair and maintenance (I have to admit, I myself know absolutely nothing about this so I have to outsource it); perhaps a module on team leadership for Network Managers; and so on.
It is my feeling that the above might generate:
* A clearer understanding of our skills --> leading to increased respect filtering down from recruiting officers (i.e. senior leaders) to other staff;
* The inception of an entry route into this particular line of work --> leading to tomorrow techie's becoming interested in this work at a Y9 Careers Convention perhaps!
* A more concrete feeling of having our own profession with recognised differences from working in industry;
* A source for training that is guaranteed to both benefit us and match the needs of our schools, in a way that is very clear and obvious to senior leaders;
* An initial reason to define a career and pay progression structure --> leading to better pay in the future.
This is the kind of thing that could have been supported by agencies like Becta (abolished), the SSSNB (abolished), BSF (abolished, though that's probably a good thing!) and the TDA (which will die a death on Saturday, to be replaced by an agency that currently seems to show no interest in non-classroom-based support staff). The avenues we could have used to look at achieving something like this are pretty much gone now.
What I'd like to do now is approach a couple of training providers - such as QA or Learning Tree - to see whether they might be interested in participating in a venture that has the potential to define the acknowledgement of a new profession. To make it workable and attractive, there would most likely be a need for:
* Support from lots of people like us;
* Support from a training company;
* Support from the government (or perhaps the BCS);
* Support from schools.
From our point of view, the advantages mentioned above.
From the schools' point of view, they're getting staff trained with the specific skills they need - no more "mixed bags"! (I should add at this point that I'm a pretty mixed bag myself, knowing nothing about projectors for example...)
From the government's point of view, better-performing technological backbones in UK schools to further improve their results.
From the training company's point of view, they would have the monopoly on this, at least initially. I would suggest that they might offer the courses/modules themselves at quite a low fee (to make it affordable for schools), but as the programme became more popular and the standard for IT support work in schools (as there is no other), they would still make a considerable profit from the sheer amount of schools requesting the courses.
Perhaps I'm talking out of my backside though. Perhaps much of what's needed is already around elsewhere, though I've not found it. I would welcome comments from anyone - particularly interested to hear the views of @Dos_Box and @GrumbleDook.
Last edited by Ephelyon; 28th March 2012 at 04:20 PM. Reason: Spelling errors
Not going into a massive amount of detail, but such a framework for training etc... already exists - namely FITS. This is a sub-framework of ITIL, which is used in industry, and it is relevant to education. Individual skills (Windows, Servers etc...) are already catered for by hundreds of training courses etc...
From my point of view the problems that we face are caused by a few factors:
1. Lack of training from employers
2. Lack of personal responsibility to train ourselves. Our employers aren't all doing it, so we should push forward and do it ourselves.
3. Lack of presenting ourselves as professionals. Simple things such as attire, and interest in schools outside of the 'technical' side of things put is into a negative category. Do teachers all turn up in jeans and t-shirts in schools? We're supposed to be managers, so we should dress and behave like them.
4. Lack of understanding of what we do from management. This is incredibly difficult to impart, as they simply have no interest in the specifics. The fact we sit in front of a screen all day and everything is working fine makes many think 'we've got too much IT support'...
I agree that there should be some form of grading system based on the qualifications or experience an individual has. Anyone here who has served in HM Forces will know the sort of thing I mean.
Grade 1 - new entrant basic office skills, PC maintenance, printer maintenance, basic software installation, help-desk ...............
Grade 2 - PC Build, intro to AD and networking, ................
Grade 3 - Advanced level of grade 2 tasks and server admin ................
Grade 4 - Advanced server admin, web sites ......................
Grade 5 - Team management, FITS, Policy making, purchasing ..............
I'm not saying the above should be read as gospel but you get the idea.
The problem comes down to that old problem of 'Funding' Most schools barely spend enough to buy a Server 200# manual never mind fund a training course, which leaves the IT Department to train in-house which further leads to an array of variations as to what is required as we all know, time is precious.
As you stated, this sort of thing should have come from one or all of the agencies that are now gone, so who is going to lead it, design it, fund it and monitor it? A nice dream and one I would love to be part of but at the moment I just can't see where the required resources would come from. You can pretty much rule out public funding for the foreseeable future which leaves the Private Sector which understandably would want to see a way of producing a profit.
Any lottery winners out there looking for a little project to spend on?
Last edited by alan-d; 28th March 2012 at 04:37 PM.
Agreed, alan-d. I think Becta had an ICT Competencies Framework that would seem to partially fit your scale above...
Quite right, FITS is a good starting point and embodies many of the ideals I've expressed already (more than I thought it did in fact).
Looking at the material on their Introduction, Practitioner and Advanced courses, it seems to be mainly technical and service management-oriented. Quoting from the Advanced course:
* Servers and computers
* Operating systems
* Routers, switches and firewalls
* Directory Services Administration
* Print & Output Management
* Storage Management
* Service Level Management
* Service Continuity Management
* Performance Monitoring
* Preventative Maintenance
* Energy Conservation
* ICT Financial Management
This is all well and good, but I was thinking more of a course with modules covering things like this, as well as e.g. things like projectors. Things like Safeguarding issues. Things like understanding the differences between "industry users in an office" and "educational users in the classroom". Two examples:
* A question I apparently got wrong at a recent job interview was about Safeguarding, asking about the statutory procedure for what to do if you find an inappropriate image on a staff laptop. I got the answer wrong because no-one had ever told me there WAS a specific procedure. We manage the technical side of Safeguarding every day - my question: what else that's "official" don't I know?
* Many people joining us straight from industry might be dismayed at certain teachers' apparent shock at being asked to replace a toner cartridge themselves if a new one is dropped off by the technician when the toner level reaches 5%. This is to avoid disruption in their lessons in case we're not available to change it immediately. Either way though, an understanding of pedagogy could be a module - for example, the fact that if this is a very difficult class, that teacher might be holding order together solely through the force of their personality and a 2-minute lack of concentration to change the toner simply isn't an option in all circumstances. This is something that you know if you're a teacher, or if you're one of us who's worked in education before, but otherwise I think it's something most people from industry looking to join education wouldn't understand at first.
FITS doesn't seem to accommodate things like this. Yes, you could do some FITS stuff and mix it with a SWiS qualification, adding a projector training course and whatever other examples you can think of... but wouldn't it be nice to have it all as part of a single framework, endorsed by the government, accredited by the BCS and promoted to schools to raise understanding and awareness?
I have to admit some frustration from my side of things with the view that IT Staff in schools are not recognised for what they do ... I am a firm fan of FITS* (*declaration of interest - we are training partners) but I know that it is not the full monty but neither is ITIL.
I was at a BCS meeting the week before last about moving towards CITP status and I expressed my frustration about how they ignore staff in school unless it is something to do with the curriculum. I would love for CITP to be there to give some level of aspiration for staff working in schools / with schools ... but it boils down to someone has to sit down with BCS and make them wake up about it.
I have joined the BCS Policy Hub now to see what work is going on in the public sector and to throw me tu'pennyworth in ... and I am thinking of taking an idea shamelessly poached from a friend working at a senior level in a council IT team. He is looking at SFIAPlus to set as the tool to go through all the related job descriptions to try to make sure they match up against the particular aspects and the right levels. The will then help when taking JDs to Hay Panels for review when new jobs are created or to ensure that the existing jobs can be evaluated correctly.
BCS are already in talks with a number of big name firms (Microsoft, IBM, etc) about the use of SFIAPlus, MBCS and CITP BCS - Together and so we know it can be done but for it to work for schools it will take them speaking with unions and LAs about it, it will mean someone has to sit down and work through both trade and related qualifications (e.g. FITS) to map what fits in where ... Except Becta has gone, LAs are not what they used to be and the onus is on schools instead. If we could persuade some Academy groups and MSPs to try to adopt this attitude then it could be replicated elsewhere ...
To some extent if BCS were to take a lead on this side of things (helping the recognition of IT support and IT management as professions in education) then they are also likely to ask what is in it for them. They are a charity and do a lot of stuff for public good, but to do this they need members. Asking people to put their cynicism to one side for the moment, do people think that if BCS (or anyone else ... IET, an association for IT professionals) could raise the profile of professionals who are in their schools would you become a member?
It is worth saying that the one thing I don't think we do well in schools at all is help people become managers and leaders of people. There is some good stuff for some teachers (and obviously the NPQH) but not a lot for other roles. Is this an area which needs more work?
Ephelyon (29th March 2012)
I agree that FITS is a good thing, and I certainly wouldn't want it to go away, but indeed, as GrumbleDook says it isn't the full monty. I've also heard that some senior leaders are assuming that, as it was to a degree spearheaded by Becta, now that Becta's gone FITS is discredited as a methodology in itself. I wouldn't agree of course, but this preconception may still exist.
I also agree that whatever tool is used (and SFIAPlus seems fine to me), a thorough review of all IT Support job descriptions in UK education - within all LAs, is absolutely necessary. In my LA, the job spec of Network Manager hasn't been touched for about 6-7 years. It still mentions Windows 2000. It makes no mention at all of the full responsibilities an IT department had back then, never mind now. It's completely useless, and I've recently finished a very comprehensive job re-evaluation (at my own request) to update the spec and make it a bit more accurate. It was fully agreed by the Head and the Business Manager, sent it off for re-evaluation and... it comes back at exactly the same paygrade. I'm appealing it at the moment as I think that since we've had the new technologies and the new responsibilities added over the past 5 years, it should be at least two grades up from when it was originally evaluated many years ago. It would seem on the face of it, though, that the LA won't agree.
Added to that, I have had an ongoing debate with my Head as part of the job review to do with who does what on the strategic side. Ultimately he's the Head, so the final strategy is going to be up to him. We have a perfectly good understanding now, and neither of us is unhappy with who does what. I did hear at one point, though, when I presented my technical strategic plan for the year that I'd be developing and following, that "that's just the technical translation of what's in the SDP" and that it's all just there to support the overall teaching and learning strategy of the school. Which it really isn't. I mean, yes, bits of it are, but it also included elements like the back-end transition to server virtualisation, redeveloping our backup and Disaster Recovery procedures, upgrading from Server 2008 to 2008 R2, evaluating and implementing Exchange 2010 to replace 2007, patching up redundancy holes to make sure that "new" (for us) reliances like electronic registration can be delivered successfully, etc. These are all elements of IT strategy which is exclusively within the skillset of IT professionals, not ICT strategy (i.e. overall, how will we use the computers, where are we going to put new ones, etc.) which is part of the school's SDP and is exclusively the purview of senior leaders. I have made him aware of these elements now, and he accepts this - which is a damn sight more than some Heads would do (judging by many lamentations on this forum), so I respect him for that. I've attached the original and my approved reviewed version for people's reference (which I probably shouldn't do, but it may help to illustrate).
However, getting back to the point, if you take those two examples... no, to be honest, I'd have to disagree, GrumbleDook. Great strides have been made, not least due to work on structures like FITS, often carried out and championed by people like your good self, but overall... no, I don't think the LAs recognise everything that we do with their job specs - I'll try my best with this job review, but I don't really expect it to get anywhere. And no, I don't think senior leaders recognise what we do either, overall - I mean, mine does now, but there was an entire rigmarole involved in explaining that side of things, and I imagine many people on here would agree that it wouldn't wash with their own Heads or Business Managers.
I do think GD is right in that, yes, Academy groups and MSPs (though also state schools) could be persuaded to adopt this view... this is why I thought a single, unified accreditation might be a good idea, as we could market that on the basis that it's very specific to the skills that schools really need. In my experience, schools love getting things tailored to education! That might persuade them to support the future development of such a cause.
Indeed - I would be very happy to join BCS or similar if it would champion our particular sub-vocation! It would certainly brass off people like bisley98 and johnbrown on those TES threads from way back when... :P
It is my current bug bear that as IT workers (across the whole public sector) we are still judged as office/clerical staff. Not to do them down but I will be graded the same as someone who is a senior member of the office team purely based on the number of roles we have and years of service. There is nothing there that says "Wait a minute, this individual has just rebuilt the whole network, trained themselves on all the new technologies needed, trained the staff on the software, kept the old system running and done it all on time and in budget". I want a raise in pay after that? I need to take on more roles. In effect I am more likely to get a raise in pay if I go stand outside in the cold watching kids trying to drown each other in mud then to do my job to a high standard.
If that can be addressed I'd join the undead legion AND Mumsnet.
Those TES threads are very interesting. There is a fundamental difference between being 'control freak' or 'blocker' and being someone who is practical, who has to make recommendations based on what's best for the whole school as opposed to one faculty, who has to plan for sustainability of the existing provision as well as future developments, and all within a limited budget. Yes, of course there are NMs who block without good reason, just as there are teachers who demand the impossible. People have to realise that it's hard to always strike the right balance between need, desire, and funding. Invariably, if you prevent someone doing something they want, they'll emrege with a negative view of the process - that's just human nature. T & L is driven into NMs, but a T&L facility for a few can't be provided at the expense of a stable, sustainable network for all. We all have to compromise, on both sides. There will always be winners and losers, but that's life. I think a NM has to be thick skinned, because you will never please all of the people all of the time. Also, it might help if SLT made staff aware that, in many cases, NMs analyse, they assess, they plan, they recommend, but unless they are part of that SLT few NMs will have to authority to just go ahead with projects and developments. People refer to ICT steering groups, etc, but these can often just be an excuse for another meeting that ultimately leads nowhere if there is no single focus, no shared vision with practical expectations.
From what I read on here and on TES from time to time, the 'them' and 'us' culture is alive and well in education.
I think that summarises it down to a tee, TonyJF.
That's why I think a qualification that emphasises an understanding of teachers for techies will:
* Perhaps finally get those few genuine control freaks in our profession to review their attitude, or at least weed out the ones who refuse to;
* Make teachers feel better about coming to us instead of going over our heads;
* Make senior leaders more aware of our skills and more confident in them;
* Provide those of us (like me) with skills gaps with a school-friendly (both in marketing and in price) and targeted method of remedying this.
There is a genuine lack of understanding about the job that techs do, but even more so when it comes to NMs. People know stuff runs, they know new stuff appears every now and then, but have little comprehension about how it is all achieved. Generally, most staff will have little awareness of the infrastructure that provides all of their ICT services, the work that goes into maintaining it, developing it, managing it, etc, etc. And, in reality, why should they? Is it any different in the corporate world? Do people sit in offices and ponder the technological solutions that allow them to do their jobs? No. So ICT Support education is a very different world, because we have to work to the needs of our end clients, and those needs are ever changing. And I dare say I'm not alone in having to adapt to those needs without recourse to training every time (in fact the last official training I received was for Server 2000!!). There are frustrations on both sides, but generally I don't think people appreciate the level we have to achieve in our field to be able to adapt and grow and develop, nor the amount of our own time many of us use up in making sure we don't become de-skilled. I had professional qualifications coming into this job, some of which I've allowed to lapse, but that doesn't make me any less of a professional. I don't want to walk around with a huge badge that announces me as such, so yes, I'm for anything that endorses ICT Support staff in education as the professionals - often qualified - I think most of us are.
Thanks, everyone, for your views. On the basis of that, do we think it might be a good idea to contact e.g. the BCS, or QA perhaps, see what could be done? Or is it unnecessary?
Or maybe, if so, would GrumbleDook be better placed to do that, being on the Policy Hub and all?
Incidentally, of those who have viewed the job specs I posted... does anyone have any comments?
just my opinion but
there seems to be training available to teaching staff that is - structured, supported (by smt,line managers), well funded, and that has a direct correlation to teachers pay and career advancement.
This does not seem to be the case for IT staff, indeed 'find out on google' or 'get a book on the subject' seems to be the training available.
I worked for the civil service for 4 years in IT support and had more training than I would ever recieve in a life times work in educational establishment. Everyone makes the right noises about supporting the support staffs career, aspirations, personal and professional advancement and training but it alaways seems to come down to 'that's too expensive-how will training you up professionally benifit us-the school?'
just my experience.
jdoyle (25th June 2012)
Indeed... so what can we do about it?
Try and get a new job not in a school before lack of relevant training and qualifications blows your chances of bettering yourself.
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