Teachers increasingly choose the supplier of teaching materials

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A new survey on procurement in schools has revealed that there has been a sharp increase in the number of primary academies where the classroom teachers and subject leaders are the people effectively responsible for choosing the supplier of teaching materials.

The survey by BESA of 310 primary schools (210 authority controlled, 100 academy) and 298 secondary schools (142 secondary authority controlled and 156 academy) was directed to resource managers (43 per cent), finance officers (32 per cent) and other staff with procurement responsibilities (41 per cent).

The research investigated whether schools set a formal Consistent Financial Reporting (CFR) budget at the beginning of the financial year for learning resources and ICT.

While only around 5 per cent of schools stated that they do not set a formal budget, a significantly higher proportion of schools do not set a more informal budget for product categories including printed resources and digital content, furniture or classroom ICT. Virtually all respondents (91 per cent) set a CFR E19 learning resources budget which is the same as stated in 2012.

Across all product categories 85 per cent of primary schools set their budgets and 60 per cent of secondary schools, but for print and digital resources only 68 per cent of secondary schools and 49 per cent of primary schools set budgets.

For both primary and secondary academies, the month of July is most likely for restricting purchasing while non-academies are most likely to restrict purchasing from March.

The majority of schools create a budget for teaching materials, equipment and general school items, but are less likely to set a budget for printed resources and digital content. 58 per cent set a budget for printed resources and digital content, which is less than indicated in 2012 (62 per cent).

29 per cent of academy schools and 32 per cent of non-academies purchase in a chain or cluster. When considering ICT products, 25 per cent of all schools at least sometimes collaborate in procurement, up from 11 per cent in 2012. However, buying in clusters is still not a common practice. Secondary academies are the most likely to collaborate on purchasing furniture (26 per cent) and ICT (26 per cent).

86 per cent of academies always or sometimes move purchasing away from local authority control to pursue value for money. This practice is not so common in authority controlled schools, where working through a purchasing consortia (74 per cent) and aggregating internal requirements (76 per cent) are the most common routes to pursuing value for money.

16 per cent of schools always search or react to special offers to ensure value for money. However, 30 per cent state that it is of key importance to select their own brand of resources which is an increase on the findings from the 2012 research (26 per cent).

Only 5 per cent of schools stated that there is no importance attached to selecting their own supplier of resources, while a third says it is of key importance. In comparison, only a quarter state that it is of key importance for autonomy to select their own brand of resources. The exception is authority secondary schools, where 42 per cent say it is of key importance.

In previous assessments, head teachers were more likely to have been involved in selecting the supplier of classroom ICT than classroom teachers. There has been a recent shift towards subject leaders being involved in primary schools, while the resource manager is most likely to be involved in secondary schools.

Schools were asked to identify the single person effectively responsible for choosing the supplier of any product requested by a teacher.

The most marked change since the 2012 report was that there has been a sharp increase in the number of primary academies that indicate the classroom teachers and subject leaders as the people effectively responsible for choosing the supplier of teaching materials. Previously, most responsibility was directed to resource managers and bursars.

In primary schools subject leaders or heads of department are most likely (31 per cent) to take responsibility for choosing the supplier. In secondary schools the subject leader or head of department is most likely to make a decision on the chosen supplier (68 per cent).

In two-thirds of cases (and rising) either the classroom teachers, subject leaders or heads of department decide on the supplier to use for teaching materials and equipment. In contrast, only six per cent of head teachers are involved in primary schools and effectively none in secondary schools. Eight per cent of head teachers are involved in choosing the supplier of printed resources and digital content, down from 12 per cent in 2012. 20 per cent of head teachers actively choose the supplier of classroom ICT which is a reduction on 2012 findings which revealed that 23 per cent chose the supplier.

Primary academies are less likely to disseminate all of their teaching materials and equipment budget to teachers than non-academies. Furniture and storage budgets are more likely to remain centralised than classroom ICT. The overall change in 2012/13 was a shift to re-centralise budgets. 49 per cent of schools indicate that 90 per cent or more of specific product resource budgets are de-centralised.

16 per cent of all orders in schools are made via commercial supplier websites, while a third continue to be made via catalogue order forms (which are then posted or faxed). Approximately 12 per cent of orders also continue to be made by telephone or email. Electronic procurement solutions (e.g. SIMS) make up 30 per cent of orders. The shift over the last year has been towards commercial websites, with 16 per cent of orders being made using commercial websites, an increase from 14 per cent in 2011/12.

In primary education academies see the ‘lowest cost’ of the product of key importance or very important (81 per cent), while in secondary academies rapid and easy ordering and delivery is the key or very important factor (77 per cent).

In authority-controlled primary schools rapid and easy ordering and delivery is the key or very important factor (90 per cent) and in secondary schools, being a current and trusted supplier is of key or high importance (88 per cent).

School Leadership Today
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