The procurement process: Best practice for schools

Written by: Imogen Rowley | Published:
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Are your school’s procurement processes up-to-scratch and compliant? Imogen Rowley offers a quick checklist to help you evaluate your practices

Maintained schools and academies have a duty to make sure they obtain the best value for money from any contracts they enter into. Whether an existing contract is coming to an end or a new service or good is required, schools need to follow a procurement process. Here are some quick guidelines for schools to help you ensure you are buying in the right way and complying with the law.

Check responsibilities and existing contracts

Check with your local authority, multi-academy trust or diocese before you start, as they may be responsible for buying certain things. However, in many circumstances you do not necessarily have to go with the option your local authority is recommending (for example, in the case of an MIS supplier) and so it is important to consider what option is best for your individual school. When contracts come to an end it is good practice to “re-procure”, to make sure the product or service still meets your needs and gives you the best value for money. Whether there has been a significant or material change in what the existing supplier is providing (for example, upgrading IT systems to a cloud-based product) or not, it is still best practice to go through the procurement process again.

Write a business case

Writing a business case will help you set out what you need, why you need it, and by when. It not only provides a coherent way of asking for approval to make the purchase, it also importantly enables you to record your decision-making process. The business case should include:

  • A draft specification (see later).
  • An estimated whole-life cost for the contract.
  • Any opportunities to work with other schools, such as borrowing equipment, buying together to get a better deal, or comparing prices and experiences from previous purchases.

Inform everyone who should be involved

This might include governors, trustees, your school’s responsible body, technical experts, a project manager for construction projects, legal experts, and suppliers. Identify and remove any potential conflicts of interest before you start. If this is not possible, think about:

  • Withholding the names of the companies while their bids are assessed.
  • Asking everyone to declare their interests in writing.
  • Asking different staff members to assess the bids.

Write a specification & work-out the contract’s cost

First, talk to the people who use or will use whatever it is you are buying, to make sure it meets their needs, and talk to the people who will approve the purchase.

Whether procuring or re-procuring, make sure you research the market so you know what is available. Speak to potential suppliers and ask other schools what they have done. Think about what is essential, what is “nice to have”, and what you do not need now, but may need in a few years’ time.

Your specification should include: a precise description of what you need, how it should meet the school’s needs, the quantity and quality required, and when you need it.

Estimate the whole-life cost of the contract, so you can decide which buying process you need to use. Include: the initial cost of the goods, works or services, VAT, delivery charges, on-going maintenance or support costs, running costs, and the cost of removing or disposing of an item or service when you no longer need it.

Identify which procurement process to use

Remember to follow your school’s, trust’s or local authority’s procurement rules, which may set out different processes or thresholds than those here. The flowchart above helps you decide which process to follow.

  • Imogen Rowley is a lead content producer at The Key, a provider of support and information for school leaders. Visit

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