In September, Perry Hill, DWF partner from our London office attended a round table briefing with Carl Fagan and Mark Wallbank from the Department for Education (DfE).
The meeting was aimed to assist the DfE to engage in a better dialogue with suppliers of services from the private sector. The DfE acknowledged that they had not always had as much opportunity as they would like to engage with private sector suppliers to the education sector.
The emphasis of the session was on schools demonstrating efficiency through improved procurement processes, and by schools sharing knowledge through making use of school clusters and data sharing.
At the heart of this is benchmarking the performance of schools. To support this the DfE are in the process of producing a “benchmarking report card” where schools can benchmark themselves against other schools with a similar demographic.
During the roundtable it was acknowledged that the European procurement rules were unduly cumbersome both for schools and suppliers.
Procurement tools and the "holy trinity"
A desire from many schools to move towards a real-time procurement tool was also discussed. The tool, described as an “amazon for schools”, would enable schools to log on to a procurement website and be presented with a shopping list of approved suppliers and prices. The DfE would like to see this happen but the likely cost of such a tool means that this won’t happen in the short term. In the meantime the DfE are looking to give much more guidance to schools on what value looks like.
At the heart of efficiency is the “holy trinity” of strong leadership, an independent and challenging governing body and a skilled school business manager. The DfE are committed to assisting schools as much as they can to develop all three of those limbs.
Needless to say with 24,000 schools in the country there is a need to work on methods of communication that don’t necessarily involve face-to-face communication. It was acknowledged that the leadership teams in schools are extremely busy and don’t always have time to attend external seminars and presentations. A lot of their focus is on e-learning, webinars, 2 minute YouTube videos etc.
In relation to governors the DfE have embarked on a programme of financial training for governors.
Regarding school business managers they have introduced a programme of grants where primary schools can apply for up to £25,000 in annual funding to appoint a skilled school business manager.
There are also opportunities for private sector suppliers to assist with such training and development.
Round table discussion summary
The DfE were keen to stress that schools, led by the example of Multi-Academy trusts, were becoming more sophisticated in their procurement processes, although there is still work to be done.
A good private sector supplier needs to deliver innovative solutions to schools (examples were given of the good work that some energy suppliers were delivering to schools) and need to understand that doing things “the way they were done last year” will not work going forward. There are plenty of opportunities for innovative private sector suppliers to pick up new contracts with the ever-changing needs of schools and academies. DWF is certainly up for the challenge!This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.