Smarter buying can meet the demands of curriculum change

Rowena Thomas

Rowena Thomas is head of category for education at ESPO. She has worked in public sector procurement for over 30 years, and focuses on working with schools to meet both their day-to-day and one-off new build furniture and equipment needs. Since both of her parents were teachers, she always felt destined to work with schools in some way!

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Buying the right classroom and PE equipment is like a full-time job – especially when the National Curriculum changes or the Government weighs in with initiatives promoting healthier eating or sports in schools. While most teachers are familiar with organising classroom supplies, it’s quite another matter to apply for separate national funding and then get best results from the new resources that they have acquired for their school.

Here are some practical ways to secure help and make things happen.

Extra know-how?

"Schools can gain equipment buying advice from their council’s procurement team, a trusted equipment supplier, or one of the big professional buying organisations (PBOs)."

Research from industry bodies suggests that a majority of teachers, particularly heads of department, take on the supplies role, researching equipment needs with their peer group via online suppliers and then bulk-buying with other schools to keep costs down. But further outside help could lighten the load. Schools can gain equipment buying advice from their council’s procurement team, a trusted equipment supplier, or one of the big professional buying organisations (PBOs). Some of the latter are publicly-owned and prepared to run free ‘health checks’ on schools’ spending and they can identify specialist equipment with attractively-priced deals.

Curriculum change - questions of supply

How can teachers deal with new equipment needs following curriculum changes? The introduction of computer coding in schools not only demands ICT equipment purchases beyond many schools’ resources, it also triggers complex staff training requirements to help develop lessons.

Where teachers’ available time for researching options ‒ let alone keep abreast of the plethora of PCs and devices coming to market ‒ is limited, trusted equipment suppliers can help demystify buying options. A sometimes under-realised route is to use professional buying organisations’ dedicated frameworks for ICT hardware, packaged software, secure technology products and end-user devices: suppliers’ products and terms and conditions have all been vetted, so many teachers’ practical questions have been dealt with in advance.

Many schools are being creative (or streetwise) in securing new equipment, much of which would normally be well beyond their usual ICT budget. Some have struck deals with private sector suppliers for free products such as tablets for pupils on the back of wider equipment orders. Could other suppliers offer practical help? Many schools are also introducing tablets and apps and changes to teaching methods across all parts of the curriculum.

Getting to grips with ICT training

Research has shown that when coding was first mooted for the National Curriculum, staff ICT skills varied considerably between schools. As a result, the Government and ICT development body the British Computer Society set up the Computing At School project which aims to create a national network of ‘master teachers' by 2015. Meanwhile, Computing at School and the primary school-focused training network, The Code Club, have secured backing from Microsoft and Google respectively.

In the interim, however, schools are being inventive with addressing teachers’ equipment and training needs. Many schools’ own skills assessments quickly identified that upskilling requires different levels of training beyond the old approach of sending several staff on a training day and sharing their knowledge later. We know of staff already delivering exciting ICT lessons by weaving together practical training from their ICT suppliers and learning by using tablets alongside their pupils. Some savvy schools have negotiated their own discounted learning programmes from private sector ICT suppliers, with new knowledge acquired in a variety of ways, including online portals or YouTube videos that offer practical help – and can count towards professional development qualifications.

With some assistance available from friendly local supply and technology firms, it seems that schools can engineer some informal training options to supplement the national-level programmes.

Making sports funding happen

"Many schools’ own skills assessments quickly identified that upskilling requires different levels of training beyond the old approach of sending several staff on a training day and sharing their knowledge later."

Another question is, how can teachers take advantage of Government-led initiatives such as new funding for sports? Because these campaigns lie outside usual budget planning, schools might need to rethink equipment buying or recruit suitably-qualified staff - even if they do secure the funding. An OFSTED report earlier this year found that schools highly-rated for PE had some uncertainties over translating Government grants for sports into new lessons.

To secure expanded sports provision, heads of department and school business managers will need to allocate time to identifying different expert resources outside their school to help them bid for funding and lesson planning, and schools may need to work together. Schools that devote realistic time to this task have identified national sources of funding and advice such as Youth Sports Trust, Sport England and Sports Partnerships organised at county-level. We know of a cash-strapped school that also found a local sports charity (Lottery-funded) able to help it with advice and grants.

These specialist bodies can help unlock funding system ‘know-how’ to help schools make the grant applications process less time-consuming and crucially, help identify the future teaching resources needed. Sports funding bodies also have the professional networks to quickly identify qualified staff or coaches to deliver new lessons.

Asking for help

Finding the right supplies or getting resources for centrally-funded initiatives is time-consuming, but help is available. Schools need to look for more outside help, striking equipment deals with ICT enlightened suppliers and enlisting sports funding bodies and charities to help make Government-funded sports campaigns a reality.

How do you tackle the challenge of securing new equipment? Let us know in the comments.

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