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When you say ‘’summer holiday’’ in school, many imagine 6 long weeks off, whether you are staff or student. Some go abroad, some stay at home. The weeks all role into one and the Autumn term seems a long way away. This isn’t the case for everyone who work in education. Gerald Haigh, independent writer to Microsoft, has give us a little insight to those who carry on working in the schools during the summer holiday, so the new term start in September continues to run smoothly for all staff and students.

 

A deputy head I knew was always called upon by the staff, relaxing after school on the last day of term, to say a few traditional words.

“Come on, Dave,” they’d say. “Give us the Virgin Snow speech.”

It began something like this.

“The holiday stretches ahead, like virgin snow. You haven’t trodden on it yet. It’s there waiting for you…”

Well, that’s as may be, but there are people in school for whom the virgin snow doesn’t exist at all. They are the ones who have to use the student and teacher-free weeks to do all the jobs they can’t do the rest of the year.

As the tumult and the shouting dies and the teachers and the kids depart, these stalwarts wave farewell, roll up their sleeves and turn to the task of bringing everything up to scratch ready to start again. Some are site managers and cleaners, some are administrators.

And some, of course, are network managers leading teams of technicians. People like Alan Richards, Information Systems Manager at West Hatch High School in Essex.

“As in most schools, the summer break is when we tackle any major work that needs doing. These days school networks are available 24hours a day, including weekends. It never stops.”

Even in the holidays, as Alan points out, teachers will want some access to the network, so this summer, down time at West Hatch is limited to three days.

One of his team’s big jobs is encrypting all the staff laptops. All 150 of them, in accordance with data security requirements.

“Even then, we don’t get to keep them for the whole holiday. Staff need their laptops for planning, So there’s a rota which they can log on to the learning gateway and find out when they can collect their laptop.“

For Alan, his team of four, and all their colleagues across the country, then, this is a busy time. But it’s not a frantic one, because as Alan says,

“Everything’s planned in advance down to the last detail.”

The pressure comes from that fact that summer maintenance is a project with no leeway for slippage. It just has to be done in the time available. And contrary to what the world thinks, the deadline isn’t the end of the holiday. It’s a couple of weeks before that, with the arrival online of external exam results. Whatever happens everything has to be up and running smoothly by then. This year it’s 18th August. The date’s important enough in itself but it also marks the beginning of a highly active couple of weeks leading up to the start of term. During that time there’s considerable demand on the learning gateway and on connection to higher and further education institutions, organizations and examination bodies.

Somehow, though, across the country, it all gets done, despite the inevitable hiccups. The classic one, which Alan has often heard about and learned to avoid by careful liaison with the site manager, is when someone pops their head round the network manager’s door and says, sandcastle

“By the way, we need to turn the electricity off for the whole of next week. OK?’

Sure enough, by the sheer law of averages, that’s a fate which right now awaits somebody out there. Even then, there’s no doubt that the network people will finish on time as they always do. But if you’re a teacher, please don’t breeze in at the start of term and ask Alan Richards or any of his counterparts if they’ve had a good holiday. They may well have, but perhaps not the one you have in mind.