Procurement is becoming more and more of a prominent issue in the education sector. However, there still appears to be uncertainty and concerns among schools when it comes to buying edtech. The Department for Education (DfE) and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) have recognised this, and as such, there has been a greater focus on procurement guidelines and the promotion of frameworks to help schools save time and money. This is all well and good, but how do schools know which ones to choose and what can they do to ensure the process is as smooth as possible? Here, Neil Watkins, managing director of education sector procurement framework Think IT, offers his advice…
Some of the most common concerns I’ve seen around buying edtech are based on the uncertainty surrounding procurement and the ambiguity around financial budgets, as well as the legalities and requirements needed to follow EU procurement law.
In the last year alone, there have been serious revelations about academy chains and others letting inappropriate contracts to people ‘associated’ to their senior leaders to the tune of £53m. These contracts exceeded £250,000, when in fact the amount over which contracts have to comply with legislation is £164,176. This means, unfortunately, there is likely to be millions more of tax payers money that’s been inappropriately spent.
However, when it comes to procuring software, resources and tools, I hear time and time again that schools simply don’t have the time – not to mention the technical know-how -to go out to tender and evaluate extensive proposals, interview a number of suppliers and then negotiate the best deal for the school.
So how do schools ensure they’re receiving the best deal without having to dedicate a significant amount of time to the process? In short: through an EU procurement framework.
What is it?
While it is something that is being encourage by the Government and organisations such as Naace, a lot of schools are still unaware of what a procurement framework is, and how the whole process works.
In a nutshell, a procurement framework is an agreement between a ‘contracting authority’ (such as a local authority or a public sector buying organisation) and a supplier or provider, that enables schools to purchase resources and services without having to run the full tender process. It gives schools the reassurance that not only are they receiving the best deals, but they are also complying with the legalities of EU and UK procurement legislation.
Once schools have worked out what ICT they want or need, they can use a framework to identify the right resources for the job, saving them both time and money.
Selecting the framework
There are a number of procurement frameworks that schools can buy through. However, one thing to bear in mind, is that you should opt for the one that best suits the needs of the school. While each framework essentially provides similar factors – removing the tendering process, ensuring high calibre products and services, and offering favourable pricing and terms and conditions – it’s important for schools to opt for a framework that can offer all of the above, as well as having a thorough knowledge of the education sector; this really does make all the difference.
Having this in-depth, background knowledge means that schools have the reassurance that the questions and queries are being fully understood and answered, and the most efficient and cost-effective solutions for each individual school are identified and will be of benefit to the teaching and learning.
Another thing to take into consideration is the list of providers the framework offers. Each framework provider has its own boundaries, meaning that some will be restricted to a registered list of suppliers. Schools worrying that a framework limits their buying options, should look to one that offers flexibility; in the case of frameworks such as Think IT, partners can be added or removed as necessary, for example, if a supplier’s standards fall they will be removed from the framework. Similarly, if a school identifies a new supplier with innovative or cost-saving products or services, these can be added to the framework.
A word of advice
Frameworks exist to make schools’ lives easier, and with the DfE’s recognition and support, this route is only set to become more common.
To help schools source all the information they need and make the right decisions, we have recently partnered with Naace to provide schools with two free tools:
Naace procurement advisory service
Naace’s procurement advisory service (http://www.naace.co.uk/procurement-advisory-service) helps schools understand how to start to plan their three-year strategy. This service, developed in collaboration with the DfE, will add to the generic advice provided by the DfE, with tools and support to help meet the specific needs of schools.
Think IT procurement portal
Our procurement portal (http://www.think-it.org.uk/main-site-navigation/tender) is an EU tendered procurement framework for education and is fully DfE compliant. There are 18 categories that cover all aspects of educational IT and cloud computing with over 40 companies on the framework, all providing expertise in their own field. And no matter how many suppliers a school uses through Think IT, it’s all under one simple-to-administer contract, saving time and money on contract management.