Matthew Gage, programme director for the Department for Education's commercial team

DfE support for school procurement

Matthew Gage, programme director for the Department for Education's commercial team looks back at the Schools' Buying Strategy, and shares how the department aims to support schools with procurement in the future

Back in 2017, the Department launched the Schools’ Buying Strategy. The intention was to deliver a range of interventions to directly support buyers in schools to get best value, save them time and ultimately enable them to invest those savings back into the front line.

Over the last three years we have worked with schools and partners and seen incredible progress. With the support of ‘Buying for Schools’ initiatives schools across England have realised savings of £337 million as of November 2019 and this money has gone back into the front line. We should not underestimate this collective achievement.

Building on what works well

We have listened and learnt a lot from school leaders, school business professionals and professional associations. And with this learning in mind, we will publish our updated ‘Buying for Schools’ Prospectus in 2021. Our approach for the next 3 years will be one of evolution. We want to build upon what you have told us works well.

We’re very lucky to work with fantastic school business professional networks, over 100 of them across the Country. These networks offer invaluable peer to peer support, share best practice and are provide us at DfE with feedback and insight about the big issues you are facing.  Our ambition is to have an active network in every part of England.

In 2020 we launched the first Special Schools Network. This was the vision of a colleague who was formerly a School Business Manager in a special school. She recognised the unique set of buying challenges that working in that environment brings, and the value of connecting with peers. I am incredibly proud to say than since launch in September 2020, this network now has 170 members.

2020 also saw the Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA), the DfE’s own alternative to commercial insurance, made available to local authority schools, as well as academies. RPA now provides both value for money and peace of mind to a membership of over 7,300 schools and academies across England. In the first few months over 450 local authority schools have signed up.

I was told recently about Purley Oaks Primary School, Nursery and Children’s Centre in Croydon, a local authority maintained school. They saved £20 per pupil using RPA, halving their annual cost of cover.

But it’s not just financial benefits that RPA offers. The RPA team are taking a more holistic and proactive approach to protecting schools who are at greatest risk of flooding or crime. We are working closely with partners across Government to take action and reduce the risk of schools flooding or becoming victims of crime in the first place. Whilst ensuring that we respond quickly when the worst happens, prioritising supporting getting schools back up and running as soon as possible, to ensure children don’t miss out on valuable days of education.
We want to continue to expand and improve the range of DfE approved deals for schools in the coming year and be responsive to your needs as buyers.

More than just money

You have told us, loud and clear, that value in procurement terms is about more than money. It’s about time efficiency, ease of access and use and customer service. We will keep that at the forefront of our thinking as we deliver on this strategy.

Late last year we launched our new furniture deal for schools, working with six providers in the market, we were able to put together a framework that offers the education sector choice and flexibility – as well as value. We’ve received over 70 enquiries in the first few weeks and we hope to bring more new deals to you in early 2021.

Improving our digital support to you is also a priority, providing better access to deals that meet your needs and developing a range of helpful tools and guides to make complex buying easier for you.

In the coming year we will continue to work with our pilot school buying hubs in the North West and South West and move towards offering all schools and academies across England hands-on support with complex procurements.

I recognise that the last year has been incredibly challenging for everyone who works in a school. The importance of the work you do as school business professionals has been rightly bought to the fore during the pandemic and is recognised and greatly appreciated. My commitment to you in 2021 and beyond is to provide you with better access to quality procurement services and support that will save you time, money – and provide value for your school.

To find out more about how we can help you and your school search ‘buying for schools’ in GOV.UK.