It depends what you mean by 'technical'

10th December 2004 at 00:00
Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

Errol, our ICT technician, is retiring after 27 years at our school. He began as an assistant caretaker, but as computers came along he developed a passion for them. We would like to upgrade our technical support and appoint a higher-grade technician. What should we be looking for in such a person?

It is amazing how many people have drifted into this line of work in schools. Errol has served you well, and now you have a great chance to set up exactly what your school needs for the foreseeable future. The first question you need to answer is: what type of ICT support do you need? In general, there are four levels available:

* ICT teaching assistant

* ICT technician

* senior ICT technician; and

* ICT systems manager.

I presume you are not looking for the first type, so which of the other three is right for you? What areas need to be managed in your school: desktop and applications support, server and network support, health and safety issues, configuration and installation, continuity, maintenance and security areas, support request management, internal support, external contracts, strategy and planning, budget and people management, personal ICT competencies of staff and technicians, communication skills and educational awareness?

When you have worked your way through that list you will be able to put together a profile of the person you need.

Are you looking for someone who:

* is a confident user of most hardware and operating systems

* can install and maintain standard network cabling

* performs basic diagnostic and recovery routines on network equipment

* can increase disk space for pupils on a project that involves large graphic files

* ensures that basic health and safety checks are carried out

* can raise awareness among staff and pupils about health and safety procedures

* carries out annual tests on portable equipment

* updates definitions for antivirus software

* discriminates between incidents and problems

* can track external support calls and report performance of external contracts, suggest changes to work routines to make a technician more available to a member of staff who is new to ICT; and

* can understand and follow school procedures?

If so, then what you need is a technician. On the other hand, you might be looking for someone who:

* is an expert user of all major hardware and has a detailed knowledge of operating systems

* can design and implement network infrastructure to meet your requirements

* manages active network components, including switches, routers and bridges

* plans with specialist assistance the deployment of wireless access points

* optimises disk space used by various departments and negotiates quotas

* monitors your school's and your local authority's legal responsibilities in ICT

* joins an online discussion group to consider issues of school health and safety

* designs and implements the school policy on asset disposal

* produces an accurate network diagram

* advises the leadership team on areas of continuing professional development needed on the basis of support-log analysis

* reports on and monitors progress against agreed service levels - both internal and external

* defines standards of service that the support team might provide for the school

* plans for major ICT developments and manages their implementation; and

* carries out an annual review of other team members.

If so, then what you need is an ICT systems manager. In between these positions, you could have someone to operate as a senior ICT technician.

So where does Errol fit into this three-point scale? I suspect that, like many others of his generation working in schools, he may well be on the first of these levels. You need to ask yourself what ICT ambitions you have for your school for the next five years, and what level of support you will need to make it work.

Errol has served you well for 27 years, but it is hard to imagine the kind of upgrade a piece of computer hardware would need after that period of time. Remember that you get what you pay for, and talented techies don't come cheap these days.

Pat McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls' school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic headteachers for 10 years.Do you have a leadership question?Email:

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