Buying for schools

1. Plan your procurement process

How to plan what you need to buy for your school and decide which procurement process to use.

Follow your school’s established process for planning and approving the procurement of goods, works or services.

As part of this, you should create a written document or ‘business case’ that you can use to:

  • specify what you need, why and by when
  • request approval to go ahead with the procurement process
  • record your decision-making process

You should also check that there is an available budget.

If you’re buying for a local-authority-maintained school, ask your local authority about their rules for procurement spending.

To help build your business case, we recommend you consider the following areas.

Collaborate with other schools

Schools have identified the benefits of working together to buy goods, which can result in saving time and cost.

Talk to other local schools about your procurement need so that you can find efficient ways to work together and get a better deal with suppliers. Consider whether you can:

  • borrow equipment
  • share resources and staff expertise
  • share knowledge of markets
  • compare prices and experiences from previous purchases
  • buy together so that you can:
    • use your joint influence to get a good deal (eg on price or service levels)
    • reduce the effort involved in managing multiple contracts

A video about using collaborative procurement to achieve greater efficiency and value for money is available.

Create an outline specification

A specification is a description of what your school needs to buy.

As part of your planning process, it may be useful to create an outline specification that you can develop more fully once you have approval to go ahead.

Creating an outline specification can involve:

  • considering why you need to make the purchase
  • meeting with ‘users’ (ie the people who will use what you plan to buy) and discussing their needs
  • talking to potential suppliers (‘market sounding’) to:
    • understand what options are available to you
    • compare costs to help you understand the ‘market price’, which you can then compare with your budget
  • identifying the project’s likely timescale and when you need the purchase to be in place
  • considering whether you need external expert help to develop your specification and/or run the procurement process

Estimate the whole-life cost of the contract

To help you decide which procurement process to use and to help with budgeting, you should estimate the total value of the potential contract across its lifetime (the ‘whole-life cost’).

Depending on what you’re planning to buy, the whole-life cost may include:

  • the price of the goods, works or services
  • VAT
  • delivery charges
  • maintenance costs
  • running costs
  • the cost of removing and disposing of an item or service once you no longer need it

Once you have estimated the whole-life cost, check whether it goes over any spending thresholds. Spending thresholds are price boundaries that you’ll usually find in your school or local authority’s procurement rules. As an example, we have used:

  • under £10,000 for a low-value purchase
  • between £10,000 and £40,000 for a medium-value purchase
  • over £40,000 for a high-value purchase

It’s also important to check if the estimated whole-life cost of your contract is above the EU procurement threshold. If so, you must use an EU-compliant tender process.

Choose your procurement process

The easiest and quickest option is to buy goods, works or services through a framework agreement. We recommend using this process for low-value purchases.

However, if you feel that using a framework won’t allow you to meet your particular requirements, you can run your own procurement process.

Check whether your school or local authority has rules that determine which procurement process you should use.

Investigate framework agreements

Where possible, we recommend using a framework agreement.

A framework agreement is an arrangement that a ‘contracting authority’ (eg 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.

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

  • it will have already been through a full competitive tender process (ie the organisation that set up the framework will have evaluated a range of suppliers on a range of criteria such as their capabilities and experience)
  • it will have favourable terms and conditions
  • you may be able to get support or advice from the organisation that manages the framework

Each 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
  • 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 will usually be more appropriate to use a mini-competition framework.

Run your own procurement process

In some circumstances, you may find it preferable, or necessary, to run your own tender process to select a supplier. Bear in mind that this is likely to take longer, use more resources and cost more than using a framework.

For a low- or medium-value purchase, you can seek a range of quotes from relevant suppliers.

For a high-value purchase, you should generally run a more formal competitive tender process.

If the estimated whole-life cost of your contract is above the EU public procurement threshold, you must use an EU-compliant competitive tender process.

Get formal approval

Follow your school’s established process for getting formal approval to go ahead with the procurement process.

Read next chapter: ‘2. Write your specification’.