If your school is finding it hard to recruit technicians, don't worry, says Nick Morrison. The perfect apprentices could be on your doorstep
Interactive whiteboards gleaming in every classroom; schools bristling with the latest systems - intranets, firewalls, spam filters... It can be hard to find technicians to keep up with the demands of all this technology. Faced with difficulties in recruiting staff to maintain and operate its technology, one school decided to take matters into its own hands. If there was a shortage of qualified technicians, it would train its own.
"We realised there was a skills shortage as we were an employer trying to recruit technicians," says John Taylor, deputy head at Dyke House Secondary in Hartlepool.
"And if there was a skills shortage, it also meant there was a shortage of opportunities for young people to train as ICT technicians."
With the help of funding from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), Dyke House set up its own advanced modern apprenticeship scheme for technicians.
The 12 recruits spent two days a week learning the theory at Hartlepool College of Further Education, and three days a week putting it into practice at the school. Funding from the LSC paid for tuition, while Dyke House paid the trainees' wages.
The group members, aged 17 to 20, included former Dyke House pupils who all had one thing in common: they had left school with few or no qualifications.
The school appointed a training manager to oversee them, managing the apprenticeship programme and ensuring they also worked towards some numeracy and literacy qualifications.
Infrastructure work was limited to converting a former toilet block into a training suite, so the apprentices could learn how to take a network down and rebuild it without interrupting the use of technology in any lessons.
"The benefit was that from the beginning we got these young people working for us all year round, not just in term time," says John. "Within a term it was payback time for us, because they were already able to do a job. We insisted they improved their communication skills, so they would go into the classrooms while the pupils were there. As far as we were concerned, they were members of staff."
Two and a half years on, the first recruits have completed their level 3 advanced modern apprenticeship. Some were offered permanent jobs in the school, others have gone elsewhere, including the local authority's IT provider and a primary school. A second cohort of 12 started last September and Dyke House is looking at recruiting a third.
Last year the school was a national winner in the Edge Employer Awards, run by the Edge Foundation, which aims to promote vocational and practical learning. The pound;50,000 prize will be spent on improving trainees'
Andy Powell, Edge chief executive, says he is not aware of any other school which has done something similar, but believes it could act as a template in the future.
"Here is a secondary school acting as an employer, and showing what an employer can do to help young people who aren't fulfilling their potential through the education system," he says.
"People have different talents and abilities and we have to ensure that there are different paths to success.
"We hope this will put the spotlight on schools as employers, and I am sure there is great scope to bring these schemes to other schools."
Dyke House has now extended the principle of the apprenticeship scheme to teaching assistants, with 10 train-ees halfway through a two-year course.
"We have a set of young people in school who are performing work in a career of their choice," says John.
"For our pupils they are role models who are closer to their age, and that is important. They see these 19 and 20-year-olds and think, 'I could do that', and that makes a big difference."