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Guest Blog: The right stuff, the right way? Public procurement in education

Guest Blog: The right stuff, the right way? Public procurement in education

/ Pete Atherton

The march for the right tech
If schools are to be truly tech-enhanced, public procurement will play a critical role in shaping the future of education.

But what is public procurement in education?

In essence, it’s about how schools and other public bodies acquire resources, accessing the best solutions for their purposes through fair competition among suppliers.

More importantly, public procurement should be part of an overall strategy to ensure that students receive the highest quality education possible. Recent events have shed light on the procurement process, revealing instances of malpractice and questionable conduct that threaten the principles of fairness, transparency, and competition.

What are the key stages of public procurement in education?

  • Planning: Educational institutions identify their procurement needs, define requirements, and develop procurement strategies and specifications.
  • Tendering: Institutions advertise their procurement opportunities and invite interested suppliers to submit bids or proposals.
  • Evaluation: Bids or proposals received are evaluated based on predefined criteria to determine the most suitable supplier.
  • Award: The institution selects the winning bidder and enters into a contract or agreement for the provision of the required goods or services.
  • Contract Management: Educational institutions monitor and manage the supplier’s performance to ensure compliance with agreed terms, quality standards, and delivery timelines.

But how does this work in practice?

For example, if a school of multi academy trust (MIS) wish to purchase a new management information system (MIS), they may want to plan against their data management, assessment and communication needs, choose potential suppliers wisely and evaluate their bids carefully; when schools are confident about the supplier, they may award a contract but be mindful of the quality and efficiency that are being delivered by the supplier.

Keeping it legal?

Public procurement in education is subject to legal and regulatory frameworks. These frameworks can vary but are generally designed to ensure open competition and prevent favouritism.

One specific case that highlights the importance of vigilance in public procurement is the High Court case between Bromcom Computers Plc and United Learning Trust (UL), where the bidding process was under scrutiny. The case raised concerns about unfair pricing, competition, and potential compromises to the quality of children’s education. Arbor were the incumbent provider.

Any misconduct in the procurement process has the potential to deprive children of the best available solutions to support their education. This case emphasises the need to protect long-term interests and maintain integrity. Indeed, the High Court’s judgements in the case between Bromcom Computers Plc and United Learning Trust underscores the importance of maintaining a level playing field, fair pricing structures, and competition in procurement processes.

UL’s conduct compromised the fairness and transparency of the process by transferring a discount from an unrelated contract. The consequences for professional misconduct and unlawful practices, as demonstrated in the Bromcom vs. UL case, should be considered in future public procurements. Moreover,  suppliers need to be accountable for their actions to ensure that only reputable and ethical suppliers are entrusted with providing educational products and solutions.

Level Playing Field?

United Learning’s conduct in the public procurement case between Bromcom Computers Plc and United Learning Trust (UL) highlights the importance of maintaining a level playing field in procurement processes. By influencing the bidding process, UL had an impact on the availability of optimal solutions, pricing fairness, competition, and the development of an open market. It is crucial for multi-academy trusts, schools, and local authorities to distance themselves from suppliers that engage in questionable practices to ensure fairness and equal opportunities for all participants.

Fair Pricing and Competition

The case raised concerns about fair pricing and competition. By including an impermissible discount in their bid price, Arbor were allowed by UL to effectively distort the pricing structure, which could potentially misled evaluators. This may have been seen to give Arbor an incumbent advantage over other companies, hindering genuine competition and limiting schools’ access to the best solutions at a fair price. Fair and transparent pricing is more likely to promote innovation in practice and value for the allocation of public money.

The Integrity of the Procurement Process

The recent court case emphasised the importance of maintaining the integrity of the procurement process. It is essential for multi-academy trusts, schools, and local authorities to be fair and honest in their procurement to ensure that the best solutions may be sourced for the benefit of students and educational institutions.

Consequences for Professional Misconduct

The case of Bromcom vs. UL case highlighted the need to uphold fairness, transparency, and competition. By holding suppliers accountable for their actions, we can ensure that only reputable and ethical suppliers are entrusted with providing educational solutions. The pragmatic judgement illustrates that, while there are important principles in procurement processes that must be followed, each case hinges on its specific facts.


Disclaimer: The statements made in this article are based on the information available and public records of the case. The intention is to raise awareness and promote fair competition, transparency, and integrity in public procurement.

Pete Atherton

Pete Atherton

Pete Atherton is a Lecturer in Education at the Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University.