Network Managers and Teachers have a relationship problem

We’re thinking about how our activities online (like this blog, our other education blogs, the Partners in Learning Network, and the main Microsoft UK Education website) can be developed to support schools more – and meet the needs of different people within a school. Within our small team we’ve got quite a few years of working in and with schools, but we thought it was an opportunity to ask somebody outside of Microsoft to do some research for us, and tell us some things we didn’t know. The first phase of that research, based on a small number of in-depth interviews with people in different roles in a range of schools, has just come back, and during the debriefing, I took lots of notes on things that I thought you might find useful. Some of it is obvious but there were also some surprises, especially about people’s behaviour.

This research isn’t a huge, representative sample, but I think that the information is definitely worth sharing, as it may help you to get an insight into what’s going on in other schools. I’m sure your school doesn’t suffer from the tension between Network Managers and Teachers that we’ve picked up on through the research, but are you aware of other colleagues suffering the similar problems?

The tension between teachers and Network Managers

One of the themes that came out of the research was that there is a tension between teachers and Network Managers, which was highlighted by informal comments from both groups.

Secondary school teachers told the researchers that want somebody to help them mediate with their network managers, to help overcome the tensions and barriers!

In secondary schools, teachers commonly complained about the difficulty of getting curriculum resources installed onto the school network, with some reporting that “the network manager doesn’t trust my choices”. This may be compounded by Network Managers who told us that "installing new software is a low priority" for them, and some said “we hate doing it”.

There were two quotes that clearly illustrated this tension, from both sides. One teacher, talking about getting curriculum software installed in school, said:

I've had to learn enough about the network that I can stop the network manager bluffing to block me

And a Network Manager, talking about teachers, said:

Teachers don't have time get innovative. If they can't get to grips with the basics, how on earth are they going to cope with the new stuff?

For phase two of the research, we’ll look to see if there’s more information on this tension (and possible solutions).

ICT Strategy

Primary schools have a more unified approach to ICT. The ICT Co-ordinator tends to see a whole school view, whereas in secondary schools ICT development is more likely to be driven by keen members of staff, and there are wide departmental disparities in ICT adoption.

Secondary schools were described as "more cynical", and with more tension in role differences between ICT staff and teaching staff

Primary schools ICT strategies tend to place more emphasis on pupils' ICT use whereas secondary schools focus on teachers' use of ICT. (The researchers wondered if this reflected a learning-centric versus teaching-centric approach in the school?) And because primary teachers learn skills for one curriculum area, and then apply it across the rest of their teaching, they felt that there was much better cross-curriculum use of ICT, compared to the ‘islands of best practice’ reported by staff in secondary schools

Teachers face huge time pressures, and regard their time as very precious. So time to use and explore ICT is therefore an issue. And in secondary schools they also reported that they find lack of access to IT equipment a big pressure (coupled with big departmental discrepancies in access).

ICT Budgets

Secondary schools have what the researchers described as “complex budget workflow”, compared to primary schools. Mainly this results from fewer decision makers in primary schools.  In secondary schools, it’s not just a discussion between a Network Manager and the Head Teacher, but also involves many different members of the Senior Leadership Team, and with many curriculum departments involved. Partly this is because Network Managers like decisions about curriculum resources to come through them, to ensure compatibility and so that they can plan implementation of new resources.

However, the researchers found, after the complex budget process, once the budget is actually allocated, it's left to the IT team to spend it - and they can more or less spend it anyway they want (eg change the plan and the priorities during the year)

The role of Network Managers

Network Managers see the goal of their job as to maintain a constant service for students, and also staff. But they referred mainly to students - even more so at primary schools. As one Network Manager said "It doesn't matter how good your network is, if it doesn't help with learning, it's worthless".

Only a minority see training, such as making sure everyone knows how to use ICT, as a critical part of their role.

Most Network Managers use EduGeek as their online professional community

Teachers sharing curriculum resources online

Every teacher interviewed said "I don't want to reinvent the wheel", and wanted to use other teachers' good resources. But few teachers actually took action about finding other teachers’ work online, preferring to use one or two sites created by publishers or similar organisations, and only a miniscule proportion were actually sharing their work with others online.

The main online place primary teachers go to get teaching resources primary schools was quoted as the free Primary Resources website, whilst in secondary schools, teachers start from their favourite search engine to look for teaching resources.

Most teachers did have other sites that they used in addition to their first choice. Other free sites used are TES Connect, BBC BiteSize and the discontinued BBC ReviseWise. And a smaller number of teachers use subscription sites for resources, such as Education City and Espresso.

One strange and interesting piece of feedback from the researchers was that teachers prefer resource sites that look home-grown "If a site looks too professional, they think it isn't for them" (I did wonder if the researchers meant "corporate" rather than "professional").

Teachers also said that if a resource was made available through their local Regional Broadband provider, then they’ll trust it more than other content, because they assume that somebody has reviewed it, and made the judgement that it is better than other resources.

Based on this, I’m sure as we go into Phase 2 we’re going to find out some more interesting stuff!

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Comments (6)

  1. It’s a tough one. I am a teacher but I don’t think some teachers appreciate the work that goes into installing software on hundreds of machines. When it can’t be done with little notice they get frustrated and the IT support staff bear the brunt.  

    On the flip side, I don’t think that non-teachers understand how difficult and frustrating it is to stand in front of 30 kids when something breaks down. I have heard of some teachers who contact support to be told "we’ll put it on the list"

    I’m really lucky that the IT support team at my school are learning focused and work their socks off to support the teachers. Thank you!

  2. Jimmy Riddle says:

    ICT support staff work very hard to try and provide a working system for the teachers and students to use normally with very limited funding.  Some teachers dont understand the implications of whim spending and buying poorly created r old software and are not interested in the amount of work it takes to make some of this software work.

    Yes ICT support staff do say NO and many teachers throw a strop and complain to Senior Management without asking the reasons for the decision.

    Talk to your ICT support staff and that includes listening and things will work a lot better and dont throw a paddy, and lastly try being polite instead of abusive always helps.

  3. Andy says:

    What many end users forget is that IT support staff live in a life of constant negativity.  They’re only contacted when things go wrong or are broken or something is needed.  

    I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been thanked or congratulated for things "just working", or when a member of staff has visited another school or spoken to a staff member from another school and seen that we’re better.

    There is bridge-building to be done on both sides.  Personally I’d be happier if teaching staff would just remember the basics like how to connect a laptop to a projector, or even their own email address! Some members of staff think its quite amusing that they don’t check their email for months.

    Or check their network cable is plugged in before throwing their hands up in the air shouting "the network is down! The network is down!".

  4. Steve says:

    I agree with most of these comments, the staff at my school who struggle the most are the stressed out ones, they don’t have “time" to stop and listen to the instructions and just expect someone to come running when they call. All too often it’s because they haven’t turned something on! Is this level of basic IT skills too much to ask?

    I maintain the network for all to use and push the use of ICT across the curriculum, however whilst there is such a vast difference in basic skill levels there will remain a degree of friction between teaching and support staff. From a teacher’s perspective, when exactly in their busy timetables should this extra training take place?

  5. Lee says:

    Wow. Not sure why but I felt like this article read like a bit of a techie bashing.

    NMs need to ensure that all software bought is compatible, is network installable and properly licensed. Not all companies make their software licensing easily understandable. *Not pointing any fingers*.

    Sometimes network managers and technicians need to say no for a variety of reasons, sometimes plans change. Say for example a budget is set and a piece of software is highlighted as beneficial, but between the budget being set and the time it was due to be bought a number of PCs or staff laptops, or even a server fail. What should take the priority? Budgets are so tight that somewhere something has to give.

    One of the issues that can also be encountered is "fad" hardware. We’ve all had sales men come in, demonstrate the "next big thing!", the school goes out and buys 20 at great cost. 12 months later they’re only being used to 10% of potential if that. That being said our cynicism can cause issue for teachers and this is where good communication is needed. Both sets need to treat each other as professionals and discuss the issue. Who knows, maybe there can be a happy compromise

  6. Alex Jones says:

    FITS has a great deal to offer to bridge the divide between education and technical teams. The framework was initially put together by Becta and now belongs to the FITS Foundations ( I was involved with the inital pilot in Sheffield and have subsequently written the training materials for the new iteration of training. Technicians need to understand the educational priorities of the school and tailor their work to best support those. FITS helps create systems for this dialogue to take place. FITS will also help technical teams increase the visibility of their work. Too often, like site maintenance teams, their efforts are unseen by teachers. This makes teachers think they aren’t doing anything. The better the technical team is at their job the less teachers see of them and so the more the teachers think they don’t do anything.

    The job of technical teams is also made easier by the introduction of support protocols that FITS outlines. These indicate priority for support calls. When teachers understand that the technical team are working to priorities determined by management they feel less irked by delays with their own issues.

    I could go on and on – look at the FITS materials for a better understanding.

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