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600 school sysadmins sacked in New South Wales

Letter from Department of Education tells principals to hire direct

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The Department of Education and Communities (DEC) in the Australian state of New South Wales has chosen not to continue funding a program that paid for sysadmins in many schools.

Funding for the sysadmins was initially made available under the Federal “Digital Education Revolution” (DER) program initiated by the Rudd government in 2007. The program saw laptop computers handed out to all year nine students and schools provided with support to manage the resulting fleets.

Federal funding for the program ended last year and New South Wales was able to continue to employ sysadmins – or “onsite Technology Support Officers” (TSOs) to give the staff their full name – using some unspent DER funds. But in an email signed by Stephen Loquet, who was hired as the Department's CIO in 2011, the Department explains that it will “... not be able to centrally fund the engagement of Technology Support Officers in schools when their current contract ends on 27 June 2014”. The date mentioned above is the last day of the school term in New South Wales.

The Register has obtained a copy of the email you can read here and understands over 600 TSOs will be made redundant.

There are two small rays of sunshine. One is that the DEC will continue to fund some sysadmins, who will occasionally be available to provide tech support. The other is that DEC says it will prepare advice for schools on how they can hire their own sysadmins directly, an option made possible by the new Local Schools, Local Decisions policy that gives public school principals some power to hire their own staff.

A spokesentity from the Department explained the situation as follows:

As part of Local Schools, Local Decisions, a new Resource Allocation Model has been developed which will give schools a much greater say over their budget, and distribute funding for public schools in a more equitable and transparent way. This will enable schools to make local decisions to meet their local needs. Schools will have the option of securing the onsite technology support that best matches their requirements, including the engagement of a Technology Support Officer and partnerships between schools.

One TSO who contacted The Register, but asked not to be identified, said he expects the following scenario will unfold in the school where he works:

There will be no-one to support 800+ laptops at the school. All of the laptops are locked down and you can't just repair them without swapping out the hard drive.

We also have projectors and whiteboards in every room, plus over 100 iPads. There will be no-one to support any of this hardware.

Within a month, I can guarantee that unless the Principal finds the money to employ someone my school will have piles and piles of dead laptops that cannot be used.

Without consistent use of the technology teachers will stop using in the classroom as it will become too difficult.

The TSO says he may be offered two days a week of work, perhaps by two schools, but that two days won't be enough time to properly serve either. Even if he scores both gigs, he'll be down a day's income and may be forced to seek full-time employment elsewhere.

That the Federal government had no plans to continue funding the DER program is not news. Nor is New South Wales' contention it would struggle to find a replacement source of cash.

Just how either government reconciles their decisions with their frequent promises to develop smart, 21st-century, education systems and industries is anyone's guess. ®

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