A Guide to Frameworks in School EdTech Procurement
A simple guide to tell you what you need to know
Founders sometimes look at frameworks with FOMO, but the flip side is that they often require a lot of upfront work but don’t offer any guaranteed results.
Before joining a framework, it’s important to think about whether it's right for your company. Over the past 14 years, I’ve worked with dozens of frameworks and seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of them.
Today let me give you the rundown on them so that you can finish this article and have a clear understanding of the pros and cons for your own company.
If you’re already familiar with frameworks, skip ahead to Section 2.
1. 👩🏫 The DfE’s Commentary On Frameworks:
The following information is a summary of “A beginners’ guide to using frameworks for school buying” written by Emily Wignall from the DfE’s Schools Commercial Team.
What is a Framework?
A framework is a commercial agreement set with one or more providers for the supply of specific products or services over a certain period. It sets the terms under which individual contracts (call-offs) can be made throughout the period. These agreements offer two arrangements:
Fixed Terms: Where prices are fixed throughout the duration of the framework.
Mini Competitions: Where prices are determined amongst the suppliers under the framework’s umbrella, fostering a competitive process for the best price.
Key Benefits of a Framework for Schools
Time-Saving: Frameworks reduce the need for full, lengthy tendering processes.
Cost-Effective: They have undergone competitive tender processes to ensure the best value for money.
Compliance Assured: The Public Sector Buying Organisation (PSBO) has conducted the tendering process in compliance with current legislation, so schools do not have to worry about procurement regulations.
Aggregation Advantages: Frameworks can increase buying power by aggregating similar needs across the public sector, leading to significant savings.
Direct Award and Mini Competitions
There are two primary ways that schools buy through a framework:
Direct Award: Schools can directly place their order with an appointed supplier based on pre-agreed prices.
Mini Competitions: Schools can run a mini competition under the framework, requiring a specification, pricing schedule, and terms and conditions.
Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS)
DPS is a type of framework, but with two key differences:
Suppliers can join at any time during the agreement’s period.
The procurement process must be run electronically.
This system is particularly useful where there are many suppliers, often more local, and promotes competition by enabling new businesses to join the framework throughout its duration.
2. 🙋♂️ Should EdTech Companies Join a Framework?
Schools operate under a set of financial conditions and they’re not required to use a tender or framework until they spend over £40,000 under a single contract.
This can surprise many EdTech companies as they imagine the limits to be much tighter but schools do have a large amount of autonomy in how they procure.
Unless you’re realistically expecting to exceed this £40,000 limit, joining a framework is a huge amount of work with no guaranteed opportunities at the end.
💡Tip: Even if you’re selling to a MAT or LA, you can avoid this threshold by setting up individual contracts for each school. This is often welcomed by MATs who are either not yet GAG-pooled, or don’t have the financial sophistication to centralise whole Trust contracts.
Here are the procurement thresholds:
Up to £40,000: 3 Quotes Required
As of January 2022, schools can procure up to £40,000 by getting 3 quotes.
It’s recommended that schools write a specification, business case and set an awarding criteria, but this is guidance, not law.
It’s increasingly common for schools to write specifications and undertake a mini-competition for MIS and finance systems due to the complexity of procuring them and the mission critical nature these have for schools.
Curriculum products and software are usually seen as discretionary purchases so the ‘procurement process’ is very informal.
At this threshold, schools are required to run a formal procurement process that includes a written specification alongside a scoring methodology.
A school can run this in-house, but this is where DfE approved frameworks become a huge time saver for schools.
At this procurement threshold, schools have a responsibility to ensure that suppliers are in a strong enough financial position to be able to deliver the contract and that they abide by UK statutory laws (data protection, working practices etc). DfE approved frameworks undertake these compliance audits upfront so that schools don’t have to.
Over £213,477 - Public Contracts Regulations Limit (PCR)
The Bromcom vs United Learning legal case shows how complex large scale procurement becomes. The DfE’s own advice is that schools / Trusts should seek legal advice when buying at this scale.
Having been involved in a number of these on the seller side, I can tell you that they take months of work to just draft a submission.
3. 💰 What Opportunities Typically Go through Frameworks?
Schools can tender for everything and anything you might imagine. If you register for the CPC, you can see what opportunities are being posted. Generally you’ll see its:
1. Commodity Products: Chairs, cleaning supplies, telephones, stationary and so on. Generic products where it doesn’t matter what brand a school uses. Price is the critical factor which makes these products a good fit for framework procurement.
2. Procurement Limits: Schools use frameworks once it becomes a legal requirement
As curriculum software is not a commodity, you can’t easily specify feature sets or requirements. This makes it very difficult to write a specification for a framework which means schools rarely do so.
💡 Tip: DfE Approved Frameworks can act as the seal of approval in a sales process with a school. It shows your company has been audited to the highest standard and that you passed.
Now, after all that if you still really want to join a framework, read on!
4. 🎯 What Frameworks Should I look At?
If you’re listing on a framework, consider a DfE approved framework. Any school in the country can buy from these (regardless of LA or Trust) and these frameworks are all publicly run, meaning they’re not for profit.
There are over 200 school procurement frameworks within the UK. Historically, every LA had their own procurement framework and schools could only buy from the approved suppliers. It was a monopoly system that sometimes ended up corrupt.
At the beginning of my career, I was responsible for ensuring schools could buy Apple iPads. A number of LAs in my area mandated that their schools had to have an aftercare warranty with every iPad, pushing the cost up by 20% and required that we give the LA a % kick back on every sale. If we didn’t agree, we couldn’t join.
The introduction of the Academy system was designed to give schools greater financial freedom and autonomy, enabling them to buy outside of their LA for the first time. However, this deregulation meant that any company was able to set up their own framework.
Today are a number of frameworks run by for-profit, private companies where you have to ‘pay to play’ either paying a fee to join, annual subscription, or a % of the sale. Be mindful of these.
EdTech Specific DfE Approved Frameworks
Below I’ve listed the the EdTech and Software related Department for Education approved frameworks:
Unless you’re dealing in contracts exceeding £40,000, schools are under no legal requirement to use a framework.
If schools are telling you that they can’t buy from you because you’re not on a certain framework, it’s time to look at joining a framework.
If you decide to join a framework, DfE Approved Frameworks are the gold standard.
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Thanks for reading and see you again next week. Best regards, Jay