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Views Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) Why BESA? E

ach month we invite the education sector’s trade association, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), to update us on changes in the sector. Whether this is from research findings that highlight a new trend or the latest Government policy that implicates the way schools operate, BESA’s director Caroline Wright keeps us informed. However, how can a trade association be of use to you, the school?


mma Manby went on a 3 month volunteer education placement in Kenya with VSO‘s International Citizen Service (ICS). Here Emma shares her experiences.

It sounds like a cliché but volunteering abroad has been something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember, so when I was given the opportunity to work in Kilifi, Kenya, with ICS from April last year, I jumped at the chance.

I was one of a team of 12 volunteers from the UK and 12 from Kenya. Many of the volunteers from Nairobi came from a slum called Kibera. It was fascinating talking to them about growing up with their brothers and sisters in a single room and walking to fetch water. The overriding feeling was that they absolutely loved living there; to them it was their favourite place on earth. It is strange to think that we came from such different backgrounds and yet bonded so well together. Part of my ICS placement was within the “special unit” in Matsangoni Primary School, where children with “disabilities” are grouped together in one class, regardless of age. In Kenya, disability is seen as something to be ashamed of or a curse from God. It wasn’t uncommon for a child with a disability to be kept away from the public eye due to the stigma associated with them.

The term “disability” was used to describe anything from dyslexia and mild learning difficulties to cerebral palsy and birth defects. My team and I felt that many of these children were more than capable of being integrated into the main school. It was difficult to see them all being taught as one class when their age (3 -13 yrs) and range of disabilities varied so enormously. Clearly, the more able children were not able to work to their full potential in this environment and those that needed extra assistance were often not able to access it. As opposed to teaching the children, we attempted to advocate for them and put into place sustainable projects that involved parents, teachers and the children themselves to help improve their prospects for the future. We encouraged the setting up of community-based organisations to get parents more involved in their children’s education. We highlighted the importance of including pre-vocational lessons in the timetable to give the children practical skills so that they might be able to support themselves when they leave school. We then showcased these skills to the parents so that they might see the ability and potential in their children. We also arranged for the children to be assessed by the Education and Resource Centre (EARC) to ensure any specific educational needs could be catered for, providing specialist learning aids, where necessary, and starting a cycle of regular monitoring and evaluation to promote integration of the children into the main school, where possible. We established a link between the local health centre and the special unit, who agreed to assess each child regularly and refer them to physio or other specialists where required. I also worked on implementing a feeding programme in the special units across Kilifi so children didn’t leave school at lunch time, for the day.

It feels impossible to put into words how much I have learnt from my VSO ICS experience, not only about myself but also about development work, Kenya and community - to mention just a few. I was inspired by my colleagues’ motivation and relentless enthusiasm to make a change, even when change seemed impossible at times because of the hurdles and challenges encountered along the way.

uTo find out more about ICS, visit May 2014

This month we invite Caroline to outline the importance of BESA to schools.

As the education sector’s trade association, we support our supplier members, but to do that effectively we must also have a very close working relationship with the Government and schools. Only by working between all three parties can we understand the sector’s needs and feed this back to the suppliers; in this way we are able to provide insight and advice to drive up education standards.

Even today, as schools sit aside from their local authority and have the responsibility to manage their own budgets and procurement, teacher training continues to be about teaching, not best practice procurement and financial management! Consequentially, many mistakes have been made. Investing in ‘cheap’ products that turn out to be useless after a short frame of time, or being misled into signing a contract to lease computers that turns out to be a scam are examples of the tragic stories that we hear from time to time.

Over the past 79 years BESA has supported schools by offering them guidance into best practice procurement, while ensuring that suppliers are ethical and follow a code of practice; all suppliers who are BESA members have to adhere to this code of practice. When considering products from a range of suppliers we therefore recommend you check whether they are BESA members before making your decision, at

So what comfort does this code of practice offer you? Firstly, it is about trust. You can trust organisations who are BESA members as they are a community of organisations who work tirelessly to raise standards in learning. They meet regularly to share best practice and help each other to support you better.

At all times, BESA members look to keep the ‘total cost of ownership’ low. By this we mean that even if the initial cost is slightly higher than another supplier, when you weigh up the warranty, quality of the product, whether it is fit for purpose, cost of renewals and upgrades, to name just a few, the actual, total cost is low.

So what else should you look for from best practice suppliers? The reliability of a product is vital; is the product going to last? Is it designed to the correct industry standards? If anything goes wrong will the supplier replace it free of charge? What are the terms of the purchase agreement?

Whether or not the supplier is an education sector specialist is another important consideration. If they are a BESA member then the answer is most likely, yes. It also means that we will keep them up to date with all the latest government policies so their products and services are aligned to the sector’s current needs. BESA keeps its members up to date on the raft of new Government policies introduced on a regular basis, so they are immersed in the sector and school needs. This in turn means that its members are able to provide you with appropriate and effective support systems.

So in terms of what BESA does for schools, we work to support you to invest wisely and to raise standards in education. While you focus on teaching, we hopefully give you the guidance you need to purchase the best products for your specific needs.

uFor information from BESA contact: uCaroline Wright u020 7537 4997 7

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