Monday, 15 March 2010

School ICT - Be clear about what you want from your ICT team.

It is very easy to blame the ICT team for the poor performance of a School Network, but the School Leadership team needs to recognise the part that it should play in making strategic decisions about what is and what is not an acceptable level of performance. There needs to be a constructive dialogue between the Senior Leadership Team and those responsible for running and developing the School Network. One way of achieving this is to establish agreed key performance guidelines for the Network Manager and the ICT Support Team, in the form of an “Internal Service Level Agreement”.

No school network can be 100% reliable, but it is a reasonable expectation that there should be a very limited “down-time”, when the network cannot be accessed. An internal SLA might outline that there should no “down-time” during the teaching day either for maintenance or for Internet access. This may mean that the ICT technical team need flexible working contracts to do maintenance before school, in the evenings or at weekends. The bigger jobs, such as replacing servers and key switches, need to be planned in advance, ideally to be done in the holidays; but, say, on Field Days or during the whole-school Carol Service if they have to be done in term.

Likewise, it would be reasonable for a school to insist that all work is backed up regularly, say on a daily basis, but that some key areas, such as email and the school management system, are backed up more regularly. An internal SLA might outline, not only the agreed expectation, but also the time to retrieve a given piece of information from archive.

The same principle applies to ICT support. An internal SLA in this area might, for example, outline an expectation that a technician will attend a lesson within five minutes of receiving a call that a teacher’s or administrator’s computer is not working; and that if it can’t be repaired immediately, a replacement will be provided within 30 minutes. This would require that the ICT support team have spare machines that are pre-installed with the relevant software that are ready to go into classrooms. There are budget implications and questions of policy in having this level of support available. For example, Heads need to balance the policy issue of having perfectly good machines sitting on the shelf in an ICT office, when they could be used somewhere around the school. This is another instance of an SMT decision that should not be left to the ICT team.

Internal SLAs allow Heads and Senior Leadership teams to agree acceptable standards and thus provide a framework within which School ICT purchasing, network development and training decisions can be made.

This blogpost includes material from an article "What a Head needs to know about ICT - Structures and People" which will be published in the ISC Bulletin next month.

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