Previous mistakes have taught management nothing
Five years ago, the Department of Education implemented significant systems changes across a number of IT platforms. This meant retraining admin staff and resulted in mass resignations due to the poor manner in which this was conducted. Under the banner of Learning Management and Business Reform (LMBR), schools made do with programs that weren’t fit for purpose, creating increased workload, with poor support.
One of these LMBR platforms (Synergy, for managing student welfare) has already been decommissioned, due to its labour-intensive processes and difficulty of use. Processes undertaken in Synergy were transferred back into ERN, with which staff were already familiar.
The Department now plans to decommission one of the remaining two platforms, EBS (used for student administration and finance). But instead of providing schools with a fit-for-purpose resource in its place, the Department has decided to outsource to third-party software providers, making schools research and select from a department-approved panel and pay from school funds.
“The Department of Education will create a divide between those schools that can afford the best software and those that can’t,” said Chair of the Schools Departmental Committee, Juliette Sizer (pictured). “Then there’s the issue of staff knowledge. As well as the inevitable increase in workload, there will be additional training needs, both on implementation and ongoing. Different schools will be using different software, making it even harder to find experienced casual staff and harder for casual staff to find work at different schools.
“It will also make it more difficult for existing staff to transfer between schools that use different systems.”
The first component to be rolled out via the ‘Administration Marketplace Panel for Schools’ (AMPS) will be the student finance function. In another nod to what even the department now refers to as “the LMBR debacle”, at least one of the chosen suppliers is unable to demonstrate how this will operate, as it is still under development.
“Is this how the Department of Education exercises due diligence in the vetting of companies and products?” said Ms Sizer. “How can schools be assured that a product that does not yet exist will be capable of fulfilling their needs?
“The loudest echo of LMBR has been in the department’s failure to consult with the PSA. This has been exacerbated by a trickle-feed of information to our members, most of whom are only becoming aware of the impact of this change through bulletins.
“With LMBR, it was only after the PSA’s intervention that regular stakeholder meetings were established, many issues were identified and millions of dollars were allocated to training.”
The PSA has once again had to force the department’s hand, this time by imposing a work ban, endorsed by the Schools Departmental Committee, on all engagement with the new systems.
“Members should be mindful that student finance is just the first of five areas to be outsourced, with 12 different companies identified as meeting the department’s suitability criteria for inclusion on the marketplace panel,” said Ms Sizer. “The solution is simple. The Department needs to provide a fully funded, fit-for-purpose program to all schools, along with the requisite training, tech support and staffing to carry out the school’s operations.
“If the Department chooses to engage an external provider to deliver this product, there should be one contract between that company and the Department not 2220 contracts, each negotiated by harried school staff already buckling under enormous workloads.
“Let’s hope they wake up to the lunacy of this scheme.”
Let’s hope they wake up to the lunacy of this scheme