Buying for schools

Catering services

How to find the best solution for the catering requirements of your school.

See if you can buy what you need through a DfE-approved catering framework.

See where to get help with buying for schools if you need it.

Before you start

Your school must comply with Standards for school food in England.

Before you start, it’s important to understand:

  • how long buying catering services will take
  • what steps you need to take
  • how to plan any changes

The steps below can help you manage the changes you may want to make.

End an existing contract

Find out your school’s existing catering contract:

  • end date
  • notice period

This will help you to plan any changes if you decide to switch contract.

Talk to the staff involved

Before you make any changes, you should talk to:

  • school governors
  • senior leadership team
  • staff involved in school catering

Before talking to your staff, you may need to write a business case for the senior leadership team and school governors.

Try to:

  • keep your staff informed
  • address any concerns your staff have
  • be aware that staff may wish to contact their union

Talk to other schools

You may find it helpful to:

  • ask other schools if they’re looking to renew their catering contract
  • negotiate bulk deals and discounts with suppliers

This may help you to get better value and spread the workload with other schools.

Start a new contract

It’s best to start a new contract:

  • at the beginning of the academic year
  • after long school holiday, for example, Christmas or Easter

Rules, regulations and requirements

TUPE and LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme)

Consider whether TUPE and LGPS will apply, especially if you’re looking to outsource or come away from your local authority for the first time.

When you give notice of termination to your current provider, you should also request details of any staff that will be subject to TUPE transfer.

This anonymised information should include:

  • salary details
  • terms conditions
  • pension details

School meals data

You should also gather information such as free school meal numbers and school meal uptake. This information will form part of your business case and tender requirements.

Procurement threshold rules

If, over the lifetime of your contract, the value of your provision is over the EU Procurement threshold, you’ll need to use a framework agreement or carry out your own procurement and issue an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) tender.

You can get information on buying catering services from the Schools’ Buying Hubs:

Use a framework

Buying from a framework can be quicker and easier than getting bids or quotes because the agreements:

  • have already been through a full competitive tender process
  • have been quality checked
  • are checked to make sure they comply with the law
  • may have draft specifications and expert help available

Considerations when using a framework

The Department of Education (DfE) reviews a range of frameworks. These are assessed for:

  • compliance with procurement regulations
  • ease of use, suitability
  • value for money

The section below contains further considerations about using frameworks.

Further competition process

A framework may still require a ‘further competition’ process but this means you do not need to run a full Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) procurement process.

Supplier equipment


  • what equipment you own
  • what the bidding suppliers will provide

You may have to include the cost of buying new equipment. You should take independent legal advice if you’re unsure about what will be included.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks

You’ll need confirmation from suppliers that they’ve had the relevant DBS checks.

It’s your responsibility to check that everyone involved in the catering contract is DBS checked.

Supplier samples

You may want to ask potential suppliers to produce sample meals for you to try as this will form part of your specification and tender requirements.

Supplier feedback

When selecting the suppliers, you may want to talk to other schools they serve and get feedback on the service they offer.

In-house catering

Guidance on running your own buying process is available in Find the right way to buy.

The information below gives you advice on the benefits and challenges of in-house catering provision.


You may find you can:

  • increase uptake of school meals
  • negotiate better prices from suppliers
  • increase food quality
  • respond quicker if your equipment is broken or faulty
  • develop staff skills through bespoke training
  • generate income by offering your catering services to other schools or nurseries
  • be in control of your expenditure

Staff training

Consider how you will provide initial training on:

  • food specifications
  • menu building
  • health and safety
  • food hygiene
  • food preparation skills

Costs and spending

You should fully understand your costings so you can:

  • plan for increased spending, for example, staffing, equipment, food and utilities
  • plan for maintenance of equipment
  • avoid expensive budgeting errors
  • keep staff up to date with legislation and regulations by allowing time and money for on-going training

Managing demand

You should:

  • get regular feedback from parents, pupils and governors
  • check you have enough dining space to accommodate increased demand


If you’re moving away from a local authority, you’ll need to obtain TUPE and LGPS information.

There may be time frames around when the local authority is obliged to release this information.

These time frames can cause delays and further expense if you award the contract without having the details.

Invite your local authority to tender

Invite your local authority to tender and involve them in the process. This way the TUPE and LGPS information must be provided during their bidding process.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks

It’s your responsibility to check that everyone involved in the catering contract is DBS checked.

Equipment and maintenance

Find out:

  • what equipment the current provider may be repossess
  • which maintenance contracts your provider covers
  • whether maintenance checks are up to date