From school terms to payment terms – How do schools buy?
Many local authorities will agree contracts with suppliers of consumables and other regularly-required items so that all the schools under their control can benefit from cost savings and an existing supply chain. For schools not supplied by such a federal approach, or for academies outside of LA control and not owned by a group, the DfE publishes guidelines and benchmark costs. There have been many reported cases of unnecessary overspend, particular on ICT purchases, so the advice given by the department is regularly reviewed and updated.
In the absence of LA-led agreements and provisions, a large number of schools across the country have established federations (‘Hard Federations’ are officially founded and ‘Soft Federations’ are a much looser arrangement). Most often these federations are created to improve academic achievement or to provide extended schools clubs, but bulk purchasing to benefit from economies of scale is another advantage.
School Business Managers and Bursars
Like GP surgeries and dental practices, schools are becoming increasingly run like businesses. The drive towards autonomy, especially in England, places greater responsibility on schools to employ business people in leadership roles. The role of ‘bursar’ has been enlarged to the all-encompassing ‘school business manager’ as each order requires sign-off and invoices are diligently checked. Of course, schools have not taken on the hard edge of Wall Street, but accountability has become a watchword in schools nationwide. It is not uncommon for invoices to require a Purchase Order Number, and for suppliers to consider the range of payment terms offered on their websites and order forms.