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How to independently check whether the network manager is up to scratch?

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by doubledong, Mar 4, 2017.

  1. doubledong

    doubledong New commenter

    Our school has a computer network. It is run by the network manager and other technicians and a trainee. For upwards of two years now, since I arrived as a teacher, we have been plagued by a slow network, network crashes, a network that is difficult to navigate around, icons all over the place which aren't needed and ones we do need that are hidden away, students' coursework not recoverable even through back-ups are supposed to be taken regularly, folders that don't appear to be mapped properly, students able to install their own programs, daily even and a Network Manager who starts talking boll***s aggressively when you try to have a conversation with him. He rarely seems to communicate, has not engaged in meetings to discuss the issues and frankly, for someone who has had complete autonomy, a huge amount of money to spend on infrastructure, has had many years to sort out issues and is well-paid (£35K +) I think he does not know what he is doing and needs to be moved on.

    I was promoted to HoD at Christmas, and one of the big discussion points at my interview was the network and dealing with its failings. The school has struggled for a long time because like many schools, the management are teachers and do not have the technical skills to talk sensibly with the network manager. I am determined to tackle this once and for all, having being asked by the Head to take responsibility for this, with the Head's full blessing, support and backing. The Head has asked me to submit a plan, so by September we will have a network we can use with confidence. I am looking at options.

    I want to start the process by bringing in a third party network company to essentially OFSTED the network, to see if it is being run properly, to highlight strengths and failings, to give us a professional, independent view by experts on whether my feelings about the Network Manager are justified or whether there are other issues, and most importantly helping us to produce a road map to improvement.

    I have identified a number of companies who have said they can do this but wonder if anyone has any recommendations.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  2. DEmsley

    DEmsley New commenter

    I've had similar and you need to get rid - simple as. Get advice from the LA/Personnel manager but with someone in that position with the ability to completely destroy the schools network infrastructure and with "complete autonomy" you have to just remove them from their post instantly. Get the head to arrange a meeting with them and whilst they are otherwise occupied change all the passwords for access and walk them off site. Obviously you will be paying them for "gardening leave" but better that than they ****** up the systems further.

    Do you have an assistant NM that you can promote? If not advertise and get one. I personally don't like the idea of external companies managing school systems but that's a personal not professional opinion - I know a large number who do.

    Make a list of what you need the system to do, with priorities. ( I'd suggest first is a good backup system in place, even if this means the trainee doing a copy and paste job to a different device.)

    Once you have a list get the techs to clarify what they can and cannot do. Get them to be honest as you need it to work. Once you know the gaps advertise or get a company in.

    wanet likes this.
  3. doubledong

    doubledong New commenter

    Thanks for the reply. Some good advice there. The risks to the school are great if the network manager decides to go nuclear but we have to deal with the network problems. It's unfair on a thousand students and a hundred staff to continue as we are.

    As I said, I was thinking of getting a third party company in to "OFSTED" and stress test the network and advise us on how to proceed. Hopefully, they would be able to help us plan a roadmap for sorting out this mess and getting in place a network we can rely on and be proud of. Assuming they agree with me that he has to go, I would hope to do exactly as you suggest at the appropriate time, which IMO needs to be sooner rather than later, taking close advice from personnel to do this within employment law. I agree with you completely that he needs to be removed from the site and access rights removed instantly, passwords changed, a back-up made and temporary custody given either to one of the technicians if the "OFSTED" company think they are up to it, or an outside company if they aren't, while we essentially rebuild the network. Timing is going to be crucial to minimise disruptions in the exam season. I hope to have the network manager gone by Easter, and a new network in place over the Summer 2017. I prefer to have an outside company manage the network because of this very scenario, with a couple of technicians to run the day-to-day stuff, or possibly a new network manager working under the direction of a third party company - all options are open at the moment.

    All other advice welcome.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  4. madcat

    madcat Occasional commenter

    A good place to start is with a full "network audit." Lots of companies can provide this service* depends where you are and how much you want to spend..
    This should give you a solid starting point for discussions with your existing NM.

    Alongside the audit you need to draw up a list of indicating what services all of the interested parties would like to see from the network and a short term 3 year maximum road map of how these could be achieved.
    Remember the future is "cloudy" and NMs could well be a thing of the past . As has happened in many other organisations

    *If you are an LEA school the authority may be able to do this for you. but a search should easily find a local company
  5. GeordieKC

    GeordieKC Occasional commenter

    One question, are the expectations of the network clearly specified, consistent and achievable? The situation could be as simple as the Network Manager not really knowing what the priorities are and in trying to please everyone has managed to upset everyone!

    One suggestion is to ensure there is an effective method for reporting and logging IT support calls - If an issue is not logged, then it did not occur! If the same issue is logged repeatedly then it needs a better solution finding. Gives very clear and accountable evidence both of the issues and any failure to tackle them.
    wanet likes this.
  6. doubledong

    doubledong New commenter

    All day to day problems are logged using help-desk software. All meetings are minuted. The network requirements from a teachers point of view are laid out and in writing as far as it goes. The 'extra' stuff e.g. icons that are not linked to an application and unusable should be hidden and common ones like Word should be easily available, students should not be able to install their own applications, all data must be backed up daily and kept securely etc are things I would expect someone on his pay grade and with his degree of autonomy to use his professional judgement over and deal with. He should be putting in appropriate procedures as necessary like a Back-up Policy and asking the right questions clearly if he is not sure how we want something - he is the network manager after all. I think he feels like God and knows the school is unable to function without him - or so he thinks. He seems unable to fathom he is there to support staff and students, not the other way round.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
  7. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    A backup policy is no good if it is not tested. i suspect that the issue is that, like many schools, he has too much power / autonomy. I have seen network managers run rings around heads and other staff by talking rubbish. It is essential that someone challenges this. I know that this is not an easy situation.
  8. doubledong

    doubledong New commenter

    I agree. I'd expect the back-up policy to state how often it will be tested and proven to be robust and how it will be done and how the evidence it has been done will be recorded but I'd expect the network manager to take the lead on this - he's not paid peanuts and ensuring all the school's admin and student data is safe and secure and backed-up daily is clearly spelled out in his job description - which is another area we are closely looking at. I suspect he isn't doing this part of his job apart from other parts so with evidence, the Head can dismiss him for gross misconduct. But again, we need to tread carefully, follow the letter of the law and make sure the network is locked down before sacking him if it comes to that.
  9. AnITManager

    AnITManager New commenter

    Really, as an IT Manager myself I would recommend trying to talk to them about it, even if it is difficult. You have to bear in mind that school/college networks are often underfunded and run by underpaid staff, often with little training. £35k in industry is actually a low salary for a manager.

    You could be describing someone that is unreasonable (I've known some of those), but it also sounds like someone with a lot of stress. In my experience nobody deliberately does a bad job or runs a bad network if they can help it so there are probably other factors.

    Just remember support staff get as fed up of others blaming technical problems on them as teachers do of getting blamed for student performance that's out of their control.
    tjra likes this.
  10. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    I think you will only achieve this by September if the head will also release tens of thousands of pounds. Otherwise it's an unrealistic target, September 18 would be more sensible as you have both infrastructure and HR issues to sort out.

    An audit / action plan / staff training approach is the right measure but your witch hunt attitude towards the network manager as an employee is very poor. If you are working day to day with a network that's not fit for purpose, then you know that the network manager has not been able to do his job properly, you don't need to pay to have that justified - you need to invest to have it rectified.

    Before "moving him on" it would be responsible as an employer to find out just why he is in the state he is in now and to try to develop him into his role with proper training and incentives. If he is defensive because he doesn't know what he is doing ... how has that come to be the case? Why was he appointed? Who by? Does he feel properly rewarded and supported? What are his goals? Who line manages him and is this effective or is he adrift? What professional development has he had in all these years he's been in charge? What training does he feel he needs to rectify the network issues? What are his PM targets, how is he supported to achieve them, are they fit for purpose? Does he have a disciplinary track record or a formal record of inadequate performance? What would make him a happy and effective employee? How will you motivate and support him to turn himself and the network around by September 18?

    It irks me when I see, as I frequently do, schools making incorrect appointments on the cheap, leaving people to flounder without proper support and then having them "moved on" by some firebrand who thinks that the best way to deal with a difficult situation is to get rid of the person. It's not football management.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  11. binaryhex

    binaryhex Lead commenter

    I disagree with the above. I don't see any witch hunt at all. I see a network that has been failing the school for a long time and a Network Manager who is difficult to deal with, isn't dealing with the problems and is paid a good salary. Schools as a matter of course should get a network independently health tested every few years anyway but from the description given, the suggested approach is reasonable, proportionate and sound; to get an independent audit of the network by people who have the expertise to work through and understand the reasons for a substandard network, as proposed by the O/P. Audits by independent companies are not done to crucify Network Managers. They are done to identify the problems and the reasons behind them, be it lack of investment, lack of a maintenance budget, insufficient support staff for the size of the network, unrealistic expectations or indeed, a Network Manager who doesn't know what they are doing and pulling the wool over the school's eyes.
    wanet likes this.
  12. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    I can see it that way also. My comments were from my experience working with many schools across the county where the following frequently applies:

    Network Manager who is difficult to deal with = poor recruitment matching and / or poor man management
    isn't dealing with the problems = improper / weak (performance) management, support, training and development
    paid a good salary = disagree. < 40k to manage a network of this size with additional technicians is not a good salary in the IT world.

    Presumably your disquisition on the benefits of an audit weren't part of your disagreement with my post as I was pretty clear on agreeing that it was the right measure.
    GeordieKC likes this.
  13. sbcarpenter

    sbcarpenter New commenter

    I am both a Head of ICT and Network Manager and have been for much of my career at various schools. In my current school I have an outsourced support contract and technician (600 users).

    From your description he seems arrogant and incompetent. I suggest you consider an independent and professional audit and health check. (Consider getting them in as advanced system troubleshooting and fine tuning consultant, thus ensuring they have admin access to all systems without the extreme step of having them take over unless actually necessary).

    Get to know him a little and make a decision as to whether he will work well with you and the changes you wish to make. See if he has plans/fustrations of his own in the job and then make a decision on his future at your school. If you decide to keep him on, ensure fair performance management where his training needs and targets are managed/monitored properly. Ensure that you have a monitoring system in place that not only records issues but allows user feedback to help with PM.

    Ensure the IT service dept financial priorities are right and overseen correctly, set up regular and supportive meetings.

    Removing someone without careful planning can leave you up the creek without a paddle. You could rebuild systems from scratch but it could be costly and disruptive.
  14. doubledong

    doubledong New commenter

    Update: the two day audit has now been done! Very comprehensive and threw up some astounding things! Not all data, including admin data, was being backed up properly, the backup system was never tested, security patches not applied, outdated software not being updated, slow network being caused by incorrect configuration, monitoring software not properly configured etc etc etc. We are considering our options now and how to move forward but so glad we had an independent inspection of our network. If you haven't had one for a few years, you really should. The network and school data are too critically important to rely on what one Network Manager full of bull is telling you. I'd even say it is negligent to do this.
    QueenieBianca likes this.
  15. jmford7

    jmford7 New commenter

    late response I know but my two cents - I'd be careful, even some IT consultants will tell you what you want to hear. They know how to play education and especially teachers who may be lacking in IT knowledge. Personally If I was you i'd sign up to sites like EduGeek which is an IT forum. You've got a lot of IT people and most of them work their butts off to make things work. You'll have plenty of people willing to message you plans on moving forward. Perhaps even a small fee to come visit or even free because some of us enjoy this kind of work (I certainly do).

    Not sure what the IT budget but that salary is better than most Network Managers and really should know how to move forward. There's a few particular people on EduGeek who have gone to schools that had crumbling IT but pushed forward with reports and plans. They've often said how good the IT is now.

    It does sound like the IT in your school is not good enough but is there a chance that it's not? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt but I've often witnessed people complain about something often but never actually report it. There's a long list I'd recommend.


    On another note.. I too have dealt with those type of Network Managers, give all the talk but don't actually have much know how.

    Although again we're only getting one side of the story. I personally have had all kinds of accusations thrown towards me even though the reasonining behind those are limited budgets, projects and system changes were all under the decision making of SLT - not IT. Is there a chance the Network Manager is simply unhappy or hands tied behind his back? This too can happen.

    I will say this, it's good that you're talking personal responsibility over this to move forward. Things improve when 1: The technical staff are good and doing the job, 2: When budgets are good and wisely spent and 3: When some one high up is directly involved and responsible.

    If you have one of them in a bad condition - you will have failing IT. I've often seen IT fail because of poor budgets or even technicians performing NON IT duties like TAs (wish I was joking on this).
  16. clockmender

    clockmender New commenter

    Hmm .. I cant tell you how often this has come up in my career at various schools. I would say the main issue is lines of accountability, who is the network team responsible to? How do they account for their work, a job logging system is best as it protects you and them. The SLT then needs to have a weekly meeting and review completion of logged jobs. Your SLT also has to agree (and this is going to sound strange) that the core purpose of your organisation is to educate students and that must be everybody's priority. Technically clueless SLT will often agree with the NM that its all about security, this of course can the cover anything. Then you have the unfortunate situation that you and the NM have different objectives (Avoid road accidents by never travelling anywhere!).
    So its an SLT thing, they must be on board with a common purpose and monitoring system. I have worked with some excellent NM's and the worst (I would go so far as to say I had to move school!).
    The biggest issues are common purpose and monitoring, thats better for everyone as the NM is probably dropping stuff every 5 mins to do something else he has just been asked to do and maybe doing other non important stuff as the previous poster said.
    Beware in 25 years of managing teams this was my SINGLE biggest issue.
  17. jmford7

    jmford7 New commenter

    I'd actually disagree that SLT often have a habit of listening to to the NM. They have a habit of listening to everyone - including salesreps, trainers and seminar organisers. Buy this product and it will save you loads of money and it will be a dream to work. If the NM says "that's a bad idea" often it's thrown out the door because it's "negative".

    Communication is key, Honesty is a must have and as you said - willingness to sit down and discuss with IT. Let's face it most don't care they just want it to work. Often they want it to work with no budget, under staffed and at times ex students who are far out of their depth.

    I'd say it needs a whole school mentality change in regards to IT. Staff have a habit of thinking a technician walking in and pressing a button to make things work is a miracle - it's not. That's like turning a key in a car compared to the complex nature of IT. The biggest companies in the world have failed - Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple have all had failing systems and critical failures.

    Working together is a must have in IT > SLT which you're absolutely spot on. You also need staff to be told not to randomly purchase things and do a better job planning ahead. Last minute requests are one of the many reasons IT struggle or BYOD ideas that don't work. On top of having poor IT staff who are not clued up, only fire fight all day or generally don't care. You name the technician type and I've worked with them. From the worst and the best (must have worked with at least 60 over the years perhaps closer to 100).

    Work with IT - if they refuse to work with you try and find out why. If they really are not playing ball - they shouldn't be in the job.
  18. clockmender

    clockmender New commenter

    Despite jmford7 disagreeing with me, I think he is right, he just said it better than me. Its no better for the NM if everyone expects them to do everything last week without structure or purpose, a 'system' will help everyone.
  19. QueenieBianca

    QueenieBianca New commenter

    I’m in the same boat, who did you use for the audit please?
  20. binaryhex

    binaryhex Lead commenter

    The best way would be to ask other schools in your area if they use third party network companies and if they’d recommend them. Your LEA if it still exists may be able to point you in the right direction. Searches for Disaster Recovery and Computer Network Audit companies will throw up results. Also, ask on EduGeek, phone up any big, local computer company or indeed any big organisation, explain you are a school and you need advice, can they help.

    Be clear what you want an audit to look at. The following is a list to get started, but others will add to it:

    - to ensure critical data is actually being backed up properly and securely,
    - to ensure backup procedures are being followed,
    - to check backups are being tested and documented as per procedures,
    - to ensure patches are being applied,
    - that security and safety issues are appropriate, working and tested,
    - to ensure the technical team aren’t abusing their positions in any shape or form,
    - to offer advice and support on any areas that need to be improved or developed,
    - to advise on better ways of doing things that might offer improvements in performance or save money,
    - to advise on adequacy of support staff skills or staff numbers

    and so on.

    Absolutely vital this is done every two or three years. Money very well spent.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019

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