Buying for schools

Run a mini-competition

How schools can buy from a framework agreement where all suppliers can bid.

The framework will say if you can select a preferred supplier or if you have to run a mini-competition. Some frameworks may set out the process you must follow or provide help.

When running a mini-competition you must:

  • comply with the terms of the framework agreement
  • decide how you will assess the bids, following any rules the framework has
  • decide the level of service you want
  • decide if you want to run an expression of interest process
  • send an invitation to tender to all suppliers who can provide what you need
  • fairly assess all the bids you get
  • choose the supplier that offers best value for money
  • award the contract to the winning supplier

Prepare your invitation to tender

Invitations should include:

  • a covering letter
  • a timetable
  • how to ask questions
  • how to submit a bid
  • your specification
  • your award criteria
  • specific levels of service you want
  • your terms of appointment

Covering letter

Include all the information people need to submit a bid. You can copy an example letter.


Set deadlines for:

  • the clarification period – when suppliers can ask you questions
  • when suppliers must submit their bid
  • the ‘standstill period’ if you have one
  • when you intend to enter into the contract

Give suppliers enough time to:

  • understand your needs
  • ask questions and use the information in your reply
  • respond to your questions and pricing requirements

You can copy our example timeline.

You must send your invitation to tender to every supplier on the framework who can meet your needs, unless you have run an expression of interest process.

Decide how you’ll assess the bids

Before you send out your invitation to tender, decide your ‘award criteria’ – the system you’ll use to decide which bid:

  • best meets your specification
  • is the ‘most economically advantageous’– the one that best combines price and quality

Give each criteria:

  • a range of scores – such as 1 to 5, with 5 highest
  • a weighting – a figure you multiply the score by depending on how important the criteria is

Example If price is most important, you might give it a weighting of 5 – so a score of 4 would be worth 20.

Some frameworks have rules on the questions you can ask and the weighting you can give. Make sure you follow their rules.

Use an expression of interest to cut the number of bidders

If you want to find out how many suppliers are interested in bidding then you can send an expression of interest (EOI) to them all. After doing this, you only need to send your invitation to suppliers who responded.

Check the framework’s rules first – not all of them allow this.

Your EOI should include:

  • an overview of your needs
  • the size of your school
  • how long the contract will last, with any important deadlines
  • when they must respond by

You can copy our example EOI.

Answer questions from the suppliers

You should have a ‘clarification stage’ – a time when suppliers can ask questions. No matter who asks the question, in most cases you should generally:

  • send the question and reply to all the bidders with the same information
  • anonymise the question, so no one knows who asked it

Do not reveal copyrighted or sensitive information. Ask suppliers if they are happy for you to publish their question and your answer. If they say no, consider their request and give them the opportunity to withdraw the question if you do not agree.

We recommend that you:

  • ask suppliers to email the questions
  • keep a log of the questions and the answers you gave

How to decide the winning bid

Assess the bids using the award criteria you sent out in your invitation to tender.

You must:

  • not open any bids before the deadline
  • treat all bids fairly and equally
  • record how you made your decisions so you can defend them if you have to
  • keep confidential, secure, auditable records
  • award the contract to the highest scoring bidder

Who should assess the bids

It’s best to have at least 2 people assess each bid. When they’re finished they should compare their scores and:

  • discuss where they’ve scored differently
  • reach an agreed score

This process is called moderation. Be aware, the more people involved, the harder it can be to reach an agreed score.

Bring in a specialist if you need expert knowledge to assess a criteria.

You may also ask the framework owner when they last ran a financial check on the supplier. Ask them to run a new one if needed.

Keeping records

Keep a record of all scores, comments and moderation decisions. Frameworks usually have a system for this. There’s also software you can buy or you can use a spreadsheet.

You can copy our example score sheet.

Notify suppliers and award the contract

Send a letter to all the bidders at the same time including:

  • the name of the winning bidder
  • the award criteria you used
  • the scores for the winning bid
  • the relative advantages of the winning bidder
  • when the standstill period ends, if you have one
  • their scores and feedback – for unsuccessful bidders

You can copy an example letter.

Feedback to unsuccessful suppliers

If an unsuccessful bidder asks for further feedback you do not have to give it. If you do, you should:

  • only comment on their bid – do not share details of anyone else’s
  • try to give positive feedback

Our advice is to avoid feedback meetings. If you do decide to meet face-to-face, keep notes during the meeting and have more than 1 member of staff present.

Standstill period

We recommend that you have a standstill period of at least 10 days between telling the bidders your decision and formally awarding the contract. It gives time for any unsuccessful supplier to challenge the decision if they believe it’s unfair.

If the period ends on a non-working day, extend it to the end of the next working day.

Award the contract

After the standstill period, tell the successful supplier that you’re placing the contract with them. Your school or organisation and the supplier should then sign the contract.

The contract’s terms and conditions (or ‘service order terms’) will have generally been set as part of the framework agreement and you should not change them. You can only add in those things that you agreed as part of the buying process.