Why do schools find it hard to buy ICT?

Every year we talk to hundreds of schools about their requirements for ICT and we consistently get told that choosing and buying is difficult process for them.

We believe there are three key reasons for that:


Complexity – The pace of change in ICT is incredible, how can schools possibly expect to keep up with and be expert in all the changes in networking, security, safeguarding, equipment and applications – in fact all of the areas required to run a school’s ICT?

Procurement Skills – The majority of schools just don’t have the in-house skills to create a detailed specification, go out to tender, evaluate technical proposals running to hundreds of pages, interview suppliers and negotiate the best deals.

Financial Certainty – How do schools know what’s a good deal and what’s not. There are hundreds of stories of schools being ripped off, and more recently concerns about fraud and theft because of financial freedoms in academies. Importantly, schools must also follow EU procurement law, something not all are aware of.

So what can schools do?

The DfE guidelines heavily promote the use of Procurement Frameworks to save time, money and resources, and ensure value for money. That’s all well and good, but the majority of schools we talk to don’t know what frameworks are, or how they work.

What's a framework?

A framework agreement is an arrangement that a ‘contracting authority’ (e.g. a local authority or a public sector buying organisation) makes with suppliers of goods, works or services. It sets the terms under which you can make a purchase from a supplier during the lifetime of the framework agreement.

Why is using a framework a good idea?

Using a framework will generally save you time, resources and money, as:

It will have already been through a full competitive tender process (i.e. the organisation that set up the framework will have evaluated a range of suppliers on a range of criteria such as their capabilities, experience and value for money);

  • It will have favourable terms and conditions:
  • You can often get support or advice from the organisation that manages the framework; and
  • It will be compliant with EU and UK procurement legislation.

How does a framework work?

The framework will have guidelines that you must follow to select a supplier and place an order. It will require you to either:

  • Make a direct selection, where you choose the best-value option for your requirements from a list of suppliers; or
  • Run a mini-competition, where you ask all suppliers on the framework to send you a bid (or ‘tender’) for your requirements.

If your requirements are simple to define, you can usually use a direct-selection framework.  If your requirements are complex, it may be more appropriate to run a mini-competition framework.

Conclusion

The framework will have guidelines that you must follow to select a supplier and place an order. It will require you to either:

  • Make a direct selection, where you choose the best-value option for your requirements from a list of suppliers; or
  • Run a mini-competition, where you ask all suppliers on the framework to send you a bid (or ‘tender’) for your requirements.

If your requirements are simple to define, you can usually use a direct-selection framework.  If your requirements are complex, it may be more appropriate to run a mini-competition framework.