Neil Limbrick, IT manager and founder of the Education Collective, looks at how he and his IT colleagues can effect change through strong CPD programmes and ensure they remain highly motivated in schools rather than opting to seek professional opportunities elsewhere
I love my job. I don’t mind that people generally only come to see me when something is wrong. I don’t mind that sometimes people act as though every IT problem is my fault. I don’t mind because I know how ICT can enhance the relationship between the teacher and the student and how crucial that is to creating effective learning. I know that the collection of attendance data helps make sure the student is in school in the first place. I know that assessment data helps teachers plan their lessons and I know that the use of IT resources can make some topics easier to grasp. But, as much as I love my job – and have done for most of the last 17 years – the truth is that it has a bleak future.
Like many support staff roles in schools there are boundaries for salaries, with few opportunities to progress to a higher grade – increasingly so as the funding crisis takes hold. This is less of an issue for ICT staff because there are more options available to them but this, in turn, generates a problem for schools. Most of the available options lead to managerial-type activities away from working in schools. A handful may choose a teaching career, and some may transfer skills to develop a career as a manager, but most will be tempted away to industry or become self-employed consultants.
‘Room for growth’
Recently, I have seen some of the best colleagues from surrounding schools leave education completely and I know of many more colleagues who are realising that this might also be a reality for them. For most it’s an agonising decision because they are passionate about working in education. But, surprisingly, it’s not always the draw of more money that entices them – the changes are a result of a push because they don’t feel they have any room for growth. The case for a strong CPD programme to retain staff is rarely disputed but non-technical managers often struggle to understand what this should look like. This is often because it’s assumed that CPD for ICT revolves around new technical skills but the best CPD, along with the best innovation, should be about finding new ways to use existing skills and, perhaps, stretching these a little further.
For example, sending your technician to take photographs of sports day fulfils a need, with the upside that it might also be an enjoyable day and raise morale, but why end it there? Challenge them to develop an online shop to sell the photographs to parents and so generate some much-needed income. Replacing a missing/broken keyboard is a straightforward and essential task but developing a database that tracks stock and raises purchase requisitions when needed will take some work. It will also hone valuable skills and could open a path to any number of other powerful systems being developed for the school.
Push your IT staff to see the opportunities – quite often all that is needed is some time, an internet connection for research and someone to believe in them and have raised expectations.