Bad practice

6th April 2001 at 01:00
He's bad. Jack Kenny looks at all that's bad in educational technology and what we can learn from it

Is your purchase really necessary?

One adviser points out that the LEA has to meet a computer:pupil ratio target set by the Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) - 1:11 for primary, 1:7 for secondary. "One of our secondary schools will have to buy 100 computers to meet that, find somewhere to house them and teach staff how to make full use of them. The school is oversubscribed and in every other way is successful. Its achievements at GCSE equal any comparable school. It does not feel the need to change."

Where next?

The school is a good illustration of the fact that we have a curriculum that can be taught without a battery of computers because that is how it was designed. This school is doing that very successfully. It will only suffer when there is a curriculum that is designed for this millennium. Isn't it bad practice to compel schools like this to change? The influx of technology could even damage the present success. Judging schools by computer:pupil ratios is a crude measure. Outputs, not inputs, are what should be judged.

Expensive technician

He prided himself on keeping the network going. He was also the first person to be called on when the photocopier went wrong - which it often did. He kept a little bottle of isopropyl alcohol and some cotton buds in his desk drawer to clean the heads of video recorders. No one was better at clearing printer problems. He kept all the replacement ink cartridges in his room and ensured that another was ordered as soon as one was replaced. He enjoyed the warm smiles he received from staff when he went into the classroom to deal with the malfunctioning computer. He felt like the cavalry. The only trouble was he was not a technician but the deputy head on pound;45,000 per annum.

Where next?

There is something very satisfying about dealing with machine problems. There is usually a solution. There is no emotion. No follow-up is required. It is clea, quick and clinical, in other words completely unlike the problems of dealing with teachers and children. Can any school afford to have someone doing a job at pound;45,000 that could be done by a technician paid well under pound;20,000? Some schools are beginning to look at issues like this. ICT support is expensive, but an ICT infrastructure like this should not be managed in this ad hoc way. Industry would identify and isolate the costs. If a member of the senior management team is running around with a screwdriver for parts of the day, what is being neglected? Schools who look at managed services often complain the services are expensive. If this school did the real accountancy, it might get a shock - outsourced managed services would probably look affordable.

Sharp practice

A school in a northern LEA needed a new network. The headteacher put the request out to tender. Company A bid pound;40,000. Company B bid pound;30,000. A couple of days later company B received a phone call from the headteacher informing it that it had been successful. It was pleased because up until that point all the schools in the area had been with company A. However, two days later the headteacher rang company B again to inform them that he had changed his mind. Amazingly, company A had decided to "give" the network to the school in order to preserve its dominance in the area.

Where next?

This is what Corleone senior would really call an offer you cannot refuse. All's fair in love and selling computers, it seems. No one can blame a headteacher for reconsidering although there could be legal implications. The point is that, although the particular school received a good deal, it had delayed the time when the other schools would realise that they were tied into a supplier with very high margins.

If you know of any genuine examples of bad practice, email details to Jack Kenny at

The purpose of this column is to encourage good practice, rather than apportion blame. All material that we use will preserve anonymity

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