Keeping stationery moving forward

Patrick Hayes, director of BESA, shares his insight on the changing buying patterns of stationery in schools and asks BESA members to offer their advice on wise investment.

Over the years, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has carried out numerous and regular surveys with the aim of understanding the changing needs, budgets and buying patterns in schools. The purpose of this has been to keep suppliers informed to ensure they develop resources to meet these evolving needs.

The interactive whiteboard and learning platform frameworks of old saw a spike in IT expenditure. The arrival of the new primary and secondary curricula and pressure on schools to raise standards in English and maths resulted in an increasing need for high quality, subject specific learning resources. However, one area of expenditure that has appeared to be unaffected by any policy changes has been stationery and general classroom items. In our research we define ‘general school items and stationery’ as paper, exercise books and general administrative consumables. In most cases this excludes photocopying costs, but not paper.

Monitoring expenditure
Our annual ‘Resources in English Maintained Schools’ research has shown that growth in expenditure on general items and stationery switches between small losses and gains each year to bring static spending over recent years. Looking at primary schools first, in 2013 we saw schools only increase their stationery budgets by 0.7 per cent. By the school year 2014/15 this had dropped to -1.2 per cent, but their expenditure forecast for 2015/16 is back to an increase of 0.7 per cent. Of course if we bring inflation into the equation we actually see a decline in investment. However, with price reductions this is possibly less marked.

In secondary schools, a similar fluctuating stationery expenditure has been experienced. In 2013, schools planned a decrease of just 0.5 per cent. The following year this rose to +0.6 per cent and this year they are once again forecasting a reduction in expenditure, this time by a more significant 3.0 per cent. Before 2009, expenditure on general school items and stationery generally recorded strong annual increases; especially across primary schools. It was from 2009/10 that schools started to indicate negative growth in expenditure. While there has been some upturn, the negative trend continues.

There are possibly two reasons for this. Firstly, if we consider the ever-increasing adoption of technology in schools, why wouldn’t we see a reduction in the use of stationery items? Children are typing instead of writing and saving document files rather than using exercise books. Their learning activities are delivered via eLearning resources rather than textbooks, and even art work is carried out digitally now, rather than on coloured paper.

Acknowledging the arts
Added to this is the current argument in our sector that the creative subjects, including the arts, are being marginalised in favour of the core subjects. Last year the BBC reported on findings from Warwick University that ‘creativity and the arts are being squeezed out of schools’. These findings led to a general agreement within the cultural and creative industries and education industry more broadly, that the government’s focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) should include the arts (STEAM). So while schools are working hard to save budgets how can their continue to invest in stationary for the classroom and creative arts department?

For this advice, we turn to our experienced member organisations. Graham Harrison, business manager for education at Staedtler (UK) Ltd, reminds schools to always buy from recognised, reputable suppliers. He said: “We have operated in the UK for 50 years. Our specialist product range for the education sector has been developed and perfected in close association with the teaching profession so we know it meets their exacting requirements.”

In addition to ensuring Staedtler (UK) has input from teachers during its product development process, it also supports them via the ‘Teachers Club UK’; its online platform for primary school teachers to access free product samples, curriculum-linked teaching resources and competitions.

Karen Mather, national account manager of education at Pentel, agrees by adding: “Whilst I appreciate that schools and colleges have to spend their budgets on stationery wisely, buying the cheapest products all the time will not always give you value for money. Quality products will cost more but will last you longer and save money in the long-run.”

She uses their Pentel Maxi-Flo Whiteboard markers as an example by explaining: “Whilst not the cheapest on the market have a unique ink replenishment system that allows all the ink to be used in the pen. No throwing away of pens because they fail to work.”

This is a quality that all BESA members adhere to, so you know that you are buying wisely.

Stocking wisely
Another piece of advice is to implement a stock management system. It is common to see stationery art cupboards in classrooms with faded, crumpled sheets of paper and pots of pens with some working and others that have run out a long time ago. One class may be re ordering coloured pens while another class has too much stock. Having an effective stock management system across the school can save a lot of money and ensure each teacher has the resources they need.

While we are all motivated by the latest technologies it is wise to remember the importance of good quality stationary to inspire and engage the students in their work.

Further information