Recipe for disaster: NSW Education Dept turfs 600 techs


blog Remember how the previous Labor Federal Government kicked off that billion-dollar Digital Education Revolution program to give school kids laptops? Remember how schools across Australia hired IT support technicians in an effort to support the new laptop infrastructure? Yeah, good times. Well, Australia has a new Coalition Federal Government and, it appears, the good times are over. iTNews has sighted an email from the central bureaucrats at the NSW Department of Education and Communities which has dire news for hundreds of IT workers. The site reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“The NSW Department of Education informed school principals on Thursday the contracts for approximately 600 workers would not be renewed when their current terms ended on June 27.”

To my mind, this is really catastrophic news for the NSW Department of Education’s IT support infrastructure. I am aware that Delimiter has quite a few readers who work in IT support for schools, and the universal feedback I get from those readers is that they are constantly run off their feet, and that their State Governments are not allocating sufficient staffing resources to keep up with supporting the ongoing rapid development of the use of technology in education.

What we see happening in NSW, in this context, is a massive retrenchment of a huge amount of front-line IT workers who were literally holding the fort. If you assume, as I do, that many of these staff spent much of their time ‘putting out fires’ — reacting to the latest crisis in terms of their schools’ IT infrastructure — then removing those staff will create chaos across the board. Many, many problems will go unfixed when it comes to schools’ IT infrastructure, and problems with fundamental ICT service delivery will become entrenched and endemic within the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

We’ve seen this story many times before. For political reasons, a Government cuts funding to technology dramatically. Then, five years down the track, a series of Auditor-General’s reports highlight the disastrous implications of that funding cut. We live in an age of technological change. Cutting IT resources from every school in NSW is going to have a dramatic impact in that context. The widely dispersed nature of our education system means that there are many things that simply cannot be run centrally from state capital cities. But I suspect the bureaucrats at head office won’t understand that until it’s too late.


  1. Does this sound like a plausible comment from a conservative politician on the issue?
    “We don’t need those new-fangled computer things! Back in my day, we learned to read & write & learned out times tables and spelling perfectly well with pencil & paper. Children today can’t spell or do sums, so we need to concentrate on the fundamentals and get rid of all the distractions in schools!”

  2. All part of the Coalitions master plan of enforcing their own technological illiteracy on the masses

  3. From friends and family that are teachers (aged 30 – 60), the single biggest waste of time and resources is getting devices into schools or giving them directly to kids *but not supporting them*

    They universally would prefer that 99% of devices be taken back, sold, and the remaining 1% were supported correctly.

    Blew my top off hearing this from young teachers.

    • There was an article about IT in education a month or so back in relation to this issue that I found very interesting, particularly the resulting discussion. Worth a look – essentially it seems the problem is the difficulty in experienced, knowledgeable and skilled IT people entering the education field due to onerous requirements means there are very very few people if any who are suitably skilled or qualified to devise compelling programs for use of IT in school programs – there’s no point having fancy hardware if you have nothing to do with it and no one who even knows how to operate it properly.

  4. Is it possible the department is getting rid of direct employment but schools will be free to independently employ these people as part of the new ‘Independent Schools’ program?

  5. Renai, appreciate the article and would now like to you delve into the ‘why’?

    My hypothesis is that (correctly or otherwise) these resources have been regarded as costing a large sum of money however not delivering the outcomes expected (as you said, fire fighting rather than more strategic service delivery)

    It would be great to hear from you your analysis on what drove the decision, what the interim and long term support arrangements will look like or will there be a fundamental change in the service delivery model that reduces overheads and improves service levels…

    I suppose I can’t help but feel there is more to this story and it would be great to get under the surface and find out what’s really going on.


    • hey Adam,

      the basic “why” is pretty easy to ascertain in this situation. The funding for these staff came directly from the Federal Government, and it’s quite a lot of money. 600 staff at, say, $60k a year, comes out to $36 million — and that’s not even counting the extra costs it costs organisations to employ anyone. With that funding vanishing from the Department’s budget, literally overnight, there just isn’t the budget for these staff any more.

      That’s probably 70 percent of the way that the Department is looking at this situation — I can tell you from long experience of covering Government. The Department will likely be looking at the DER issue and stating internally that it is no longer substantially its problem as it is not funded.

      I agree that there is more to the story than meets the eye, however, and the Department would have indeed considered trying to source funding for at least some of these staff itself. The broader issue would have been considered, and I think this would have made up something like 30 percent of the decision.

      Unfortunately I don’t have the time to pursue this with the Department this week; then too, this specific department has been very limited with its information disclosure in the past. I wouldn’t expect much.

      Apologies — I wish there was more I could do :(


  6. I work in Queensland, supporting a few schools (in a similar position to those that will be losing their jobs under this decision). It’s been known for quite a while that the NSSCF funding will dry up, and schools have had opportunities to plan for this — ie, no-one was blind-sided as this story makes out.

    As is the situation in Queensland, all schools are supported centrally in Brisbane, with a few system technicians supporting each region (probably about 30 schools per technician?), and some schools actually hire technicians to perform onsite maintenance day-to-day. Some schools decide to hire locally based technicians either out of their own budgets, or pay an external organization to come and maintain their systems, doing very basic work. But, technical support staff aren’t allocated under the schools yearly staff FTE allocation (unless, they’re classified as a “teacher aide”).

    Make no mistake, the front-line result of this will be catastrophic. This will affect outcomes for students, because not having their laptop for one day can result in them being behind their class in assigned work. Not to mention the fact that teachers have all been encouraged to move from paper to digital over the past 5 years, and most have done so successfully.

    I suspect sooner or later that the same fate will become of front-line support staff in other states as well, that were hired under the auspices of the NSSCF program — including myself. I hope that people in other schools are looking towards the future and seeing an “end-date”, and making their sites as self-sufficient as possible, as I am doing.

  7. Perhaps the solution is to set up IT support techs with degrees from online divinity colleges and rehire them as school chaplains.

      • Sorry to post publicly – how do I add my photo to my comments??

        (apologies, i’m sure it’s right in front of me, I have however looked in numerous places but can’t find it)


        • I don’t want to sound like a prick, but Google is your friend. Teach a man to fish and all that…

          Ah the sweet irony that you posted this in a topic about tech education ;-) You’re not trolling, are you?

  8. Can’t wait for these same techs to start up their own businesses and then charge double the rates to the schools for onsite calls…. ;)

  9. Cut the salaries of the bums on seats at Dept of Ed and there would be plenty of money. What does a Director-General do for $400,000 p.a.? If public service salaries were capped at $150,000 p.a. (which buys a lot of milk and bread) there wouldn’t be a shortage for anything.

    • Yea I have to say I don’t understand how it is legal for public servants to be making excess of 200k, let alone 6 or 7 FFS. They are not ‘thought leaders’ or strategic geniuses, they’re just self interested greedy assholes. See the example of Mike Quigley – if you’re honestly worth 600k go and make it in private enterprise, then give back by working for 200k for four years in public service. Because that way you would, you know, be serving the public interest, not doing it a disservice by taking the equivalent of another five highly skilled people.

      • You do remember Quigley donated the first years salary, and he earned his salary

  10. This is indeed a woeful situation … this type of ad hoc go-stop-go-stop-go-stop etc. decision making is very typical and is the antithesis of what is required for sustainable use of ICT to enable innovation and workplace productivity.

    Technology infrastructure and applications are now part of the fabric of any public service … classrooms, hospital wards, emergency services, administration … so cutting funding for these things is actually making the fabric threadbare and even tearing it apart.

    We see this across many different agencies. Governments think that they can cut funding for ICT and that public services will just continue by magic. The reality is that even though this may appear to be the case on the surface, and in the short term, it is at the ‘sweating the assets’ cost of progressive declines in responsiveness, quality, security and functionality. Hard working public servants are expected to bridge the gap between ICT reality and community service expectations.

    What is the underlying cause? ICT costs are an easy target. There is seldom a direct relationship between ICT costs and service delivery outcomes … so agency executives believe that they can cut ICT costs with impunity. “The little people can sort this out and make it work”.

    What is the solution (at least in part)? ICT-as-a-service.

    ICT-as-a-service providers, by definition, need to charge the long term sustainable TCO of their services. If you want the business benefits of the ICT-as-a-service you must pay the TCO. If an executive wishes to “cut the budget” then he or she will need to take responsibility for also “cutting the service”. This establishes a more honest and transparent relationship between business value and ICT costs.

    A good ICT-as-a-service provider is committed to providing a sustainable service at a defined level of quality to customers who are prepared to pay a fair market price for those services. If you can’t, or won’t, pay the price you cannot receive the service.

    The strategic outcome of a shift to ICT-as-a-service is that ICT-enabled public services will become more sustainable because their infrastructure and application fabric is removed from the pernicious ad hoc effects of government ownership.

  11. for someone trying to deliver support in a high school to our DER students this is a disgrace.
    The whole program was a good idea but rushed and never fully realised.
    Im simply giving the kids the DEC support number for any future issues. Ill also be discouraging any student from ever again seeking repairs from Lenovo (the official supplier). Im sick of having to charge kids 250 dollars just to have a keyboard key replaced or other minor repairs. They actually charge us $60 just to look at a laptop. Someone has been enriched out of this scheme but its definitely not the students.

  12. Well it has been a busy job. Entertaining at time. But what happens now? The DEC network has grown so much since we started, schools have become so much more reliant on the technology because it has been reliable over the time that we have been there. No longer some broken down strugling half network that can bearly load a webpage. My school wont be retaining their TSO, I dont think they fully understand how many network troubles were addressed while I was there. It isnt going to be a case of get the TSO to fix it, they will be forced to wait weeks or longer to have somone out from ICT if something goes down.

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