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back to article Report reveals patchy ICT provision in schools

The standard of technology provision in schools varies widely, despite spending of £487m on ICT equipment and services last year, according to the findings of independent review commissioned by the education secretary Michael Gove. Sebastian James, group operations director at Dixons Retail, was commissioned to lead the review …

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Anonymous Coward

No sh*t Sherlock

So buildings last longer than computers, wow. Stunning insight there.

Lets hope they don't foist a central purchasing catalogue system onto them for ICT like they have with certain government departments. That way lies *massive* overspend and the department getting ass raped by single suppliers.

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FAIL

Not just infrastructure....

It is the whole ICT system from support to procurement that needs addressing. Businesses that advise and sell ICT services to schools should be vetted by IT qualified staff. I know one company that wanted to supply a Linux based server to server a high school Moodle, they wanted £7500 yes you read that correctly, SEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS. Whats wrong with that? Well the spec of the PC (yes PC) was a quad core phenom II, 8GB RAM, and 2TB storage. The same spec PC was available on Amazon with a 22" LCD monitor for £500.

It is companies like this that rip schools off that need to be brought to account and shamed. Schools do not have infinate funding, indeed Voluntary aided schools have to make spending decisions like this as an extremely last resort to fix the one that is there, even if it is too old.

Private businesses do see schools as cash cows, especially when the buying is done by NONE IT staff who know what to look for and where to get it.

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Headmaster

Make your mind up

So the government want to free schools from central control and let them make their own decisions, but criticizes them for making their own decisions and each coming up with different ones.

Maybe Mr Gove needs to make his mind up.

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Megaphone

"lifecycle for ICT dramatically different to that of buildings' infrastructure"

Do we really need to pay a review team to find that out? Really? To tell us that a building has a longer useful life than a computer?

"It also recommends a separation of decisions about ICT from those about buildings."

How about a separation of decisions about surveillance from those about schooling? No... oh well.

"One example is when schools sometimes choose not to spend money on maintaining buildings in favour of investing in ICT."

... Who cares? If it's got walls, it's good enough. Let's not pretend that kids deserve to live in plush luxury all the time. Because they won't have nice buildings when they go to work. Half of all office blocks still have Asbestos, and if kids want to collect their minimum wage paycheck they will just have to sit there and breath it. It's called reality, and it's FASCINATING.

"It also says that a web-based price-comparison catalogue should be developed to help schools to get the best price for equipment."

Fucking hell, ever heard of the telephone? CALL YOUR SUPPLIER AND NEGOTIATE A DEAL. You would be surprised to learn how many sales reps are desperate to give you discounts. It's called being human, when you use your voice to get what you want, try it sometime, if you can even remember what it's like to have a human soul.

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Hardware not the only problem

As an outsider with a teacher for a wife, I can see the problems are much more extensive than infrastructure and hardware. Even if that was all done right (fat chance!) you'd still have a workforce that receives close to zero training on how to use the kit and would therefore continue to under-utilise it to a scandalous degree. The advent of cheap hardware is more curse than blessing as it means they can throw a few more laptops into the classroom to impress the parents and governors without any thought of effectiveness.

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Good point well made

There does appear to be a tendency to throw technology at a situation and assume that things will just improve on their own after that.

The problem being that technology does what you ask it to do, not what you want it to do. There needs to be thought about how, specifically, buying a fleet of top of the range computers (and then locking them down to the nth degree) is going to help children.

And yes, plenty of training is a must, but you can't train people until you actually know what you want them to do in the first place, and that, I suspect, is the reason why nobody gets trained.

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Anonymous Coward

pushy parents

One of the problems with school IT is that as soon as one classroom/year group gets a bit of kit then (at least in a certain section of schools) parents start complaining that their childrens education is being compromised if they don't have the same facilities.

Been through that at my sons' primary school ... first it was active whiteboards - school had resources to put them into classrooms of a couple of year groups which lead to demands from parents that they must be in all classrooms. (as an aside, this then generated an "amusing" side issue when the school had to explain that the reason why at the end the Y6 classrooms didn't have ceiling mounted projectors was due to asbestos in the ceiling which was safe unless you drilled into it!). Current mania is netbooks .... school have had a trolley of laptops for sometime that could be taken into classes to use on a per session basis (apparently walking up the stairs to the "ICT suite" which was installed ot great fanfare 6-7 years ago is so last decade and using desktop machines is no longer cutting edge) but then they bought a load of netbooks to be permanently assign to a couple of the year groups ... now the complaints are why every child in the school doesn't have permanent access to a netbook.

I'd be more sympathetic to all this if I'd seen any real evidence of the schools teaching basic ICT skills ... just basic things like typing with more than one finger, understanding the difference between using a style and changing font/size of some text in Word for headings etc.

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Unhappy

Re: pushy parents

Sympathetic? Teaching basic Word skills? Clearly your children have not ventured into secondary schools yet. Otherwise you would complain, as I do: where are the basic computer skill that one might otherwise imagine a "IT" GSCE is about? Trust me, when your children go up they will not be wanting in educators teaching the whole of the M$ office stack - in great detail.

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pushy parents?

Laptops in schools are a great idea - they take up less space and don't need to be kept in the same place all the time. They can be shared right across the school - the kids get a few minutes off class at the end of the day to collect the laptops and put them in a locked cubboard where the machines charge up for the next day.

Keyboard skills are not the key to understanding computers. One-fingered typing is a great way for kids who may be dyslexic* to actually express themselves. Most people can't touch-type, there's really no need for it unless you are training for secretarial work.

It's not the pretty, fancy outcome that is important but that the work gets done.

If anything its the bloody whinging perfectionist parents that are a right pain in the arse.

Parents who also haven't a clue about school finances, grants, freebies, handouts, giveways and -- ever changing meddlesome governments who are happy to chuck money at specific areas. A good school is aware of all this and has a nose for people giving money or equipment away.

*dyslexia wasn't invented when I was at school, nor were PC's - if I had both I wouldn't have been treated like shit by both teachers and pupils but it seems that for some perfection is the only way - and they are not much different from the school ful of bullies that I experienced.

Oh, I'm a governor at a Primary School with 45 different languages, 30% class mobility and 'Outstanding'.

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hrmph

You're a governor eh?

It shows, frankly. I suppose that from your "sky high" view laptops do look great in classrooms but they are a complete pain in the hoop to manage and support for those of us actually at the coalface.

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Dixons?

And a senior staffer for Dixons is the best candidate to perform this task how?

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Secondary school ICT

The problems of IT provision within schools are numerous and not just down to the couple mentioned in the report. (The following all refer mainly to secondary schools, I don’t know enough about primaries to comment although there will be some commonality).

1) Funding: how much money does the school actually get and how much of a priority is it to spend on ICT? Even within the same borough there will be massive differences on a school’s allocation.

2) LEA Decisions: how much money is skimmed off the top before it reaches schools? How is this money then spent, particularly with regard to centralised systems that some schools within the LEA don’t use as they are too restrictive / too unreliable / too limited compared to other systems they want or need?

3) LEA Support: how knowledgeable are the technician’s at the LEA? How many different organisations do you have to go through before a problem is resolved? Do the LEA’s preferred suppliers offer best value or can better be bought cheaper elsewhere? Is it cheaper to buy licences elsewhere rather than through the LEA? Does the person purchasing have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to obtain best value?

4) In School Support: is this only provided by the LEA on a when required basis? Is the school’s technician basically a changer of toner cartridges and cleaner of projector filters? Does the school employ higher level technicians and a network manager (NM) with the requisite skills, knowledge and experience?

5) ICT decisions: is a teacher effectively the network manager as a secondary role to their teaching? Do they have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to do such a role? Are decisions made between the NM and ICT co-ordinator or does one decide without consulting the other? Is there a strong enough business case for money to be spent on X or is it just a new shiny toy? Is X’s product seen as best value just because they are “specialists in the education sector”? Does the person investigating X have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to obtain best value? Will staff be trained properly? If training is provided but staff don’t attend will that be classified as a failing on their part or on the NM / ICT co-ordinator?

6) Head teacher: does the head teacher (HT) want cutting edge or reliable? Is he / she prepared to invest properly in ICT even if he / she can? Does the HT appreciate that you can’t develop, maintain and “firefight” simultaneously unless you have enough staff with the requisite skills, knowledge and experience?

7) Government interference: have you bought something because OFSTED or some other government organisation says you have to? Was it a huge waste of money or wise investment? Did you buy it from a government approved supplier but could have bought it elsewhere much cheaper? Did you purchase a system that could run a small nation all by itself when all you really needed was Windows 95 installed on a 486?

I’m sure a lot more questions will spring to mind later but the point is there are a lot of fundamental issues that you won’t be aware of unless you have worked in a school environment. I don’t believe Sebastian James has.

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Anonymous Coward

Pushy parents

Well, my older son is at secondary school now, mid-way through GCSEs, and he still seems unable to use word in any way other than an computerised typewriter .... if you need heading type it in, highlight and change font size and click bold (and hope you remember the font size for the next heading), need to put in a picture then press enter a few time to make a gap etc etc. When I ask if he's ever been taught how to do any of this "properly" (using styles, inserting pictures and using the format options to flow text around etc) he says they haven't. They get introduced to the full office stack but I've seen no evidence of any teaching of how to use them correctly. Admittedly he's not doing IT GCSE so the "how to use office" coursework may be in there.

"Laptops in schools are a great idea - they take up less space and don't need to be kept in the same place all the time. They can be shared right across the school - the kids get a few minutes off class at the end of the day to collect the laptops and put them in a locked cubboard where the machines charge up for the next day."

Precisely my point ... school had a usable system like this, they then equipped one class with their own dedicated pool of netbooks and now parents in other years are up in arms saying that their children must have constant access to netbooks as well!

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Headmaster

Make your mind up Mr Gove

Mr Gove is pushing schools to become independent of government, making their own decisions. But when they do make their own decisions, and all come up with different answers, he starts bashing them. Does he want them to become independent by doing everything he tells them to maybe?

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