Procurement is one of the six key discipline areas of the ISBL Professional Standards and is defined: “to procure goods and services on a value-for-money basis (economy, efficiency and effectiveness) to support education delivery within the context of regulatory frameworks and legislation”.
I am not afraid to share that, as a practitioner, procurement was the last area of the business management role I fully got to grips with, mainly down to my fear of it. I was put off by the language used, the acronyms, and the regulations around purchasing. In my early days as a school business manager, I did not have a school procurement strategy. However, I learnt quickly when I had to deal with a contract that wasn’t working well, and a company ceased to trade for one of the main infrastructure provisions. Suddenly, it was essential I had a better understanding of procurement practices and find the support I needed to get myself up to speed on the legalities to sort the situation out.
The word ‘framework’ also seemed a mysterious enigma within procurement, although for me, I now look at it as another way of saying a pre-approved supplier list, for specific goods and services. Colleagues from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Crown Commercial Service have worked hard to provide information that is useful and most relevant to schools and trusts.
Times have changed significantly since my early days as a school business manager when we didn’t have the comprehensive professional standards that are available to us now. The procurement and financial information available has greatly improved. For example, the DfE has 38 deals for schools, they are running two pilot programmes to support schools with buying, they have 40 benchmarking points, and have recruited 70+ school business leader group leaders enabling them to network across the country - all part of the Schools Buying Strategy launched in January 2017.
Here are my top tips for getting to grips with procurement:
- Keep and monitor a contracts register: the North West Schools Buying Hub have written a blog, with an example document that you may find useful.
- Undertake regular spend analysis reviews. Utilise the DfE’s resources and tools, freely available and including:
- Always ask a legal advisor to review contracts before signing.
- For supplies and services, if you are on a three-month termination period, allow at least a six-month lead-in time if you want to re-tender prior to the end of the contract. Allow three months to look at other options, secure quotes and present your findings to leaders or governors/trustees.
- Find a local group in the DfE Directory and join a business leaders group.
- Attend national professional development events to keep up to date with the latest best and next practice.
Procurement is a complex area of the business management function, but there is plenty of information and support available to you, that will help you with your strategy and will enable you to navigate towards the best buying opportunities for your organisation. Sometimes the things we fear the most aren’t that scary or mysterious at all when you look a bit closer. That’s what I found when I started to learn more about procurement, once I knew the rules and processes to follow, and had a good contract register in place, it became much easier.