Education Buying Header Image - How to write the perfect school tender specification

How to write the perfect school tender specification

Going out to tender can be a difficult process. Making sure you have informed potential suppliers of the exact requirements you want for your school can seem impossible at times – especially when you’re unsure of what a supplier can fully provide for you. So, what can be done about it?  

Recently, Education Buying held a webinar covering this topic view it here.

What types of school tender specification are there?

Importantly, there are three different types of specification to take notes of when creating one.  

The first is an input specificationThis would involve you prescribing almost exactly what you want for your goods or service and how you want it to be carried out. It’s important to know, while this specification will give you a great chance of getting exactly what you want from a supplier, at the same time it could also prevent innovation.  

For example, you could state that a cleaning contract must always have a minimum of two staff members in your specification. While that may provide a solution, a supplier would not be able to come to you with a creative solution that could save you money in the process.

The second type is an outcome specificationThis involves stating to suppliers that a specific result must be achieved by the end of the contract. For example, in your catering contract you could state that you’d want to achieve a 95% satisfaction rate when service users are surveyed 

This can have the opposite effect of the input specification, where supplier innovation can lead to creative ways to reach the required outcome.  

Finally, you have the output specificationMixing the previous two specifications, the output spec allows you to set out what you want to be delivered but doesn’t state how it should be delivered.  

Similar to the outcome spec, this can lead to a lot of supplier innovation as they come up with creative techniques and solutions to the goods or services fulfillment. Most importantly though, it encourages flexibility.  

It is important to note that not any one variation of specification is better than the other, they all have their advantages, depending on your requirements.  

What are the right types of specification?

Specification can also change depending on the kind of framework or DPS (Dynamic Purchasing System) that is out on the market currently. For example, Education Buying has a wide variety of frameworks and DPSs that a school or MAT could take advantage of. While that is not the sole way to go to tender, it does significantly reduce the time it takes to run a tender, due to carefully selected suppliers already on the framework.  

The difference between a framework and a DPS, is that a DPS allows you to bring in your incumbent supplier. A framework gives you the option from a fixed list of suppliers.  

If you see a framework that you think would suit you and meets your school’s requirements, don’t let your relationship with your current supplier make you feel like you have to stay with them. Ultimately, saving your school money is the main benefit of a framework. A DPS also focuses on saving money, however, it gives you the power to see if your current supplier would also be willing to save you money as well. 

Another factor of contract management that will change based on your requirements will be whether your contract price adheres to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 act.

The current thresholds noted below are applicable from the 1st January 2022 and these figures are all inclusive of value added tax (VAT).The PCR value thresholds are:

  • Works contracts -£5,336,937;
  • Supplies and most services contracts – £138,760 for central government bodies and £213,477 for other contracting authorities; and contracts for social and certain other types of services – £663,540.

If you would like to know more about the change in thresholds, you can do so here.

If you do not cross these thresholds however, you do not need to worry about PCR 2015. It’s worth working out how many low, mid and high value contracts you have in place at your school, so you can plan re-tender time accordingly. 

This avoids the stress of last-minute negotiations and contracts rolling over before you’ve had a chance to save money. 

When figuring out what contracts are low, mid and high, arrange them according to spend levels so you can better organise them. For example, we recommend a request for quotation would involve any spend under £10k a year. This isn’t a rigid plan though; it depends on the specific procurement of your school.

Though any contracts under £10k are below the PCR 2015 thresholds, it is critical to treat potential suppliers equally, fairly and to act without discretion.  

For low value contracts/tenders specifically, we recommend utilising a request for quote (RFQ) document. From this form you would fill out all applicable information and send to three of your chosen suppliers, allowing you to efficiently secure your low value contracts. This gives you more time to focus on your medium to high value tenders.  

If you have not worked with an RFQ document before, we have a template that you can make use of for any of your low value tenders. 

After figuring out what type of specification is best for you, it’s time to work out what you should include. 

What should you include when you write your perfect specification?

Within the tender document itself it is crucial to layout an introduction or summary to inform potential bidders of the context of your procurement. Follow that up with a timelineinclude a complex tender the timeline would be a minimum of 4 months – allowing 68 weeks for contract mobilisation, consultation and awarding the contract 

When we help with tenders for an Education Buying framework , we use an E-Procurement portal called Delta. This provides a full auditable trail of activity going into the procurement process. It also allows us to exchange directly with suppliers on any queries or questions we may have. This process is entirely transparent to make sure everyone is treated fairly 

It is useful to set your weightings as well, looking at your most economically advantageous tender first. Setting your weightings allows you to compare performance records in crucial factors such as: 

  • Cost 
  • Value for money 
  • Time 

It’s good to aim for a 50/50 split between price and quality, we recommend this split on purpose to allow for additional flexibility. However, depending on what you would want to purchase, this could change one way or the other. You’re the one in control.  

Depending on what you’re purchasing, set the expectations of documentation that a supplier would have to return to you. Included within these documents could be: 

  • Conflicts of interest within the tender 
  • Pricing 
  • Schedule 
  • TUPE information (where relevant) 

If you do include any KPIs in your specification, it’s a good idea to include how you would want a potential supplier to report back to you on them. 

We recommend stipulating quarterly meetings in the contract with the chosen supplier to effectively manage your contract. The specification document should also be separate from the tender pack itself, so you can always have it on hand to show to suppliers what your expectations are. It is also much easier to track this way too.  

What suppliers expect from a catering specification:

If we use the example of a catering contract, we can go further in depth on what you could be expected to include within your specification. The data you require may be: 

  • Current pupil numbers 
  • Current meal uptake 
  • Free school meal updates, uptake and figures – this is particularly important for suppliers as they will use the information to gauge how much they can try to increase that uptake. 

By providing this information early on, suppliers can focus their workload once they start to deliver the service.  

It is also key to look at futureproofing. Look ahead a few years and think if there is a potential area for upgrade – the kitchen for example.  

Mobilisation and monitoring the contract is equally important in the process, same with any special dietary requirements that may be required if you are looking for a catering contract.  

Social value is increasingly taking precedent within educational specifications. How could you benefit the area around you by securing this catering contract? Would it be through using local farmers produce? If hiring anyone for this contract, would you want to pay them the living wage? 

These points can all be built into the KPIs you lay out in your specification.  

An area that is especially important to the catering contract is equipment in the kitchens who’s responsible for the uptake of that equipment? What about any staff in the kitchen?  

What suppliers expect from a cleaning specification:

There’s a lot of crossover within catering and cleaning, but there are differences we feel are important to highlight.  

With cleaning, school meal figures aren’t necessary, the number of pupils going to your school, is. One major aspect of a cleaning contract is including the square meterage and floor plans of your school or schools so that suppliers understand how much cleaning is necessary.  

You would also need to tell them when you would want the cleaning to be done (before school or after school?). It’s good to have some flexibility here. An output specification is possible here instead of times, you could ask suppliers to aim for a level of cleanliness and let them decide what would be best to achieve that.  

Consumables are important to include as well. What’s required? Who is providing that? If they are to be included, we recommend you look at how many consumables you’ve needed for the last 2 to 3 years (pre-Covid) so you can make sure the bid is relevant to your requirements. 

With the help from these specification tips, we hope to see you saving a lot more and stressing a lot less over your next round of contract renewals.  

How else we can help:

All of our DPSs and frameworks have been designed to be self-service. Meaning, they are all templated, free to access and to use! But we understand that sometimes people want more than templates. We can additionally provide consultancy services such as contract management or full tender management to completely take the job off your workload.

If you would like to see how else we can help you, please feel free to contact us and one of our procurement experts will be on hand to assist