Friday, June 25, 2010

My Involvement in the working group on IT in Irish Schools

in November 2009, the government announced that they were going to invest €150m in IT resources for Irish schools. This was based upon the recommendations contained in the Smart Schools = Smart Economy report, which had been prepared by an advisory board drawn mainly from the Irish ICT industry and people actively working in the sector. The government loves committees, and as a result the Department of Education and Science have convened a "Steering Group" to give them advice on exactly how to spend this newly allocated money and this steering group has convened a number of sub-groups. I have been invited to participate in the sub-group on classroom and student infrastructure. The sub-group is coordinated by Rita Sexton of the ICT Policy Unit in the Department of Education and Science. The members of the sub-group are:
  • Vincent McCarvill, ASTI
  • James Kelly, TUI
  • Tom Lonergan, NCTE
  • John Fahey, NAPD
  • Adam Grennan, CISCO
  • Brian O’Donovan, IBM
  • Paul Delaney, Dell
  • Graham Byrne, Promethean
  • Stephen MacDonald, HP
  • William McAuliffe, BT
  • Tom Garland, Oracle
This is my first experience of being involved in a government advisory group and I must admit I am surprised at how slowly things move. Although there is quite an interesting discussion when we do meet, we have only met twice since the group was formed in April. The group is not yet anywhere reaching recommendations - we have only just agreed our formal terms of reference. However, based upon the discussion I have heard so far I have reached a few personal opinions - I would love to hear feedback from other people via this blog:
  • Visualised desktops provide an interesting technology to allow remote support be provided to schools. This technology has matured in recent years and also network connectivity in schools have advanced to make this an architecture we should give serious consideration to. However, we would need to run a number of smaller pilots before taking a definite decision to roll out any solution country wide.
  • Governments love to announce major capital investments, however without adequate current spending budget it is often not possible to make fully effective use of the equipment purchased with the capital investment. Some schools are luck to have one or more enthusiastic teachers who maintain the ICT infrastructure as a hobby project. However, not all schools are so lucky and hence schools need a budget to pay professional support because otherwise there is a significant chance that some of the expensive new ICT infrastructure will not be fully utilised.
  • For historical reasons Irish schools tend to be independently run by autonomous boards of management (often associated with a religious body). While everyone recognises that schools will not get best value if each school acquires their ICT support services independently, the schools are reluctant to compromise on their independence by allowing the Department to centrally manage their ICT assets.
    However, the vocational education committeess (VECs) in each county do control a significant number of schools and in a number of cases they are doing a great job of providing central ICT support services for all of the schools under their control. In some cases other schools in the area are contracting with their local VEC to provide them with ICT support. I believe that this is a model we should encourage because it is a good middle ground between central control by the department and each school going it completely alone.
The formal terms of reference we agreed are as follows:


  1. Taking account of the needs of the particular ICT requirements of schools and the requirements of the Department, examine the current custom and practice for procurement by schools and suggest any improvements which better meets the needs of schools and also addresses the requirements of public procurement.
  2. Consider the views of industry in relation to their responses to tenders - any difficulties encountered and industry’s perspectives on meeting the requirements of public sector tendering for ICT equipment.
  3. Recommend a list of requirements for schools relating to technical support and maintenance which could be included in Requests for Tender /Frameworks issued by schools, the Department or the NCTE.
Technical Support, maintenance & training on use of equipment
  1. Review and advise on the technical, equipment-specific training for teachers when equipment is procured (in this regard liaise with the sub-group on Teacher Professional Development)
  2. Consider proposals to simplify the technical support and ongoing maintenance requirements of schools.
  3. Examine the feasibility of a centralised technical support solution.
Architecture and specification
  1. Consider and recommend how to achieve a more effective and uniform range of equipment across the school system which meets teaching and learning needs.
  2. Consider the suitability of standardisation in equipment specification and the appropriateness of pre-configured specifications and warranties in hardware and software purchasing for schools.
  3. Provide advice and recommendations to the NCTE on the feasibility of thin/virtualised client, cloud computing desktop virtualisation.
  4. Consider ways in which schools can, from an equipment management in schools perspective, allow and facilitate students to utilise their own digital devices.
  5. Develop guidelines on the use of open source technology for schools.
Communications and connectivity - including LANs
  1. Review specifications for schools LANs which allow for school-wide connectivity, flexibility and greater internet speeds
Integration and innovation
  1. Explore and recommend ways in which the ICT industry can support ICT integration and innovation at school level through for example assistance and sponsorship to initiatives such as the Digital Schools Award.


  1. Hi Brian, thanks for sharing your experience with the working group! This gives an interesting perspective on how Irish schools currently manage their IT. Looking forward to reading more on that topic and updates on the working group progress, though I understand that one might take a while :o)

  2. Hello, Brian, it is an interesting experience , do you think there are many Irish schools place their servers in the cloud, like this virtual data room software?