£300 million IT supply for schools goes up for grabs

Suppliers are needed for an estimated £300 million worth of school IT spend over the next four years.

The government has launched a procurement exercise to replace a Becta framework contract in use since October 2010.

Becta, once responsible for promoting the use of technology in learning, was closed in the “bonfire of the quangos” after the coalition government came to power. The Becta IT contract was transferred to Department for Education ownership, with schools still free to use it after this point.

The Crown Commercial Service is now looking to find up to 20 companies that will offer IT services and goods for use in education settings. By using such a contract, schools avoid having to complete a full procurement process of their own.

The ICT Services for Education framework will replace the Becta framework, which included RM Education, Capita and Dell among suppliers.

Mark Chambers, chief executive of Naace, the national association for technology in education, said: Frameworks can be very beneficial, for the schools, whose confidence in the services increases, and for the suppliers in terms of the business opportunities they represent.

“They do, however, rule out many smaller organisations whose solutions may be exactly right for a school but who may find it difficult to meet the strict criteria of a framework.”

Governor and former school ICT director Mike Cameron also warned that such a framework contract could have a “stifling” effect, by not allowing schools access to the widest range of options.

“My concern about frameworks is they do tend to push people into a certain way of thinking and restrict you. The positive, of course, is that they take away some of the work from the school,” he said.

John Spencer, a part-time computing teacher and freelance computer engineer, said while schools were free not to use such frameworks, in reality they would.

“They will, because in schools there is this terrifying thing … due diligence. So if you go off-piste and start buying your own stuff in, then you get your balls chopped off if it goes wrong.

“If you’ve gone with RM or Capita on a major framework — hey, no one gets sacked for buying IBM. It’s that idea.”

Applications to supply under the new framework must be submitted by December 17.

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