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8SELLING TO SCHOOLS How to sell to

a sector that’s undergone a number of changes recently, which could generate new opportunities for your business.

T The education sector

It’s important to know what type of school you’re targeting. Schools across the UK are either state-funded or private, and, within the state sector, are (broadly speaking) either under some degree of local authority control, or, in England, are Academies or Free Schools. These are completely self-governing, and account for an increasing proportion of the sector. Some state schools do most of their

procurement through their local authorities, while others have much more autonomy, and, crucially, both Free Schools and Academies have total control over their own budgets. A private school is essentially free to buy what it wants, but its budget could be subject to fluctuations in the number of paying pupils it signs up. A survey by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in 2012 found that fee-paying schools were increasing capital spending by less than the rate of inflation in response to the economic climate, although spending on IT, other equipment and existing buildings were all up on the previous year.

Every school needs a vast range of products and services


here are close to 30,000 schools in the UK, each requiring a whole range of goods and services. It’s

Caroline Wright, director of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA, says the fact that so many secondary schools are becoming Academies has “really huge marketing implications” for suppliers. “The education sector at the moment

is very changeable,” she adds, “going from LAs [local authorities] getting funding and procuring en masse, to schools being in charge of their own budgets.”

What schools buy

Every school needs a vast range of products and services. The Handbook of Procurement, a supplier directory for schools published by, lists everything from AV equipment to security services, office equipment, first aid training, fencing, solar panels, payroll and window cleaning.

Chris Lacey, head of marketing and

product development at, says financial services such as bookkeeping and accountancy make up one of the biggest growth areas, particularly as Free Schools and Academies look to outsource this type of work – but it’s also one of the most competitive. “Lots of small businesses know about

the changes that are happening with schools at the moment and are coming into the market,” he says. “IT and AV services are also competi-

tive, though with IT it depends on what you’re talking about. We have a lot of companies providing IT support and advice to schools, and that’s not dominated by big names.”


Changes to the education sector could mean new opportunities for small suppliers, JEN HERBERT discovers.

Caroline Wright points out that an

ongoing curriculum review, expected to result in a new curriculum in 2014, could also create opportunities for education publishers and resource producers. “They will need to work rapidly on that over the next year,” she says. “It’s an exciting area if people get ahead of the curve.”

How schools buy

“When it comes to purchasing, processes vary widely between the different types of schools,” comments William Simmonds, chief executive of the National Association of School Business Management (NASBM, “Some will be autonomous Academies. Some, primary and secondary, will be under local authority control. Many will be part of local purchasing consortia, working together to gain group discounts.” There are a number of indirect routes

to supplying schools, which might be worth investigating. Some local authorities use framework agreements, where terms are agreed with one or more suppliers and schools can set up individual contracts within the agreement depending on what they need. Similarly, schools may buy through public sector buying organisations (PSBOs), groups of local authorities that use their combined purchasing power to secure better deals with suppliers. In both cases, the types of contracts being awarded are large, and smaller firms may be better off pursuing subcontracting opportunities from the primary suppliers they are awarded to.

Better Business No 189

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