The school tendering process explained

Procurement is a vital aspect of schools’ operations. The process involves purchasing goods, services, and works at a good price so that the school continues to run smoothly. To ensure that your schools get value for money and that the procurement process is transparent, tendering is a crucial step in the process.

But, what is it?

What is Tendering?

Tendering is a formal engagement process where the supply market provides pricing and product or service details.

The tendering process implies an intention to purchase, unlike the quotation exercise. In financial procedures, schools must obtain three quotes for goods or services above and up to a certain level of spend.

What is a Framework?

Frameworks are another aspect of procurement that schools can make use of. These agreements are contracts that organisations such as local authorities, central government departments, or public buying organisations negotiate with suppliers to get the best, compliant deals.

These organisations – such as Education Buying – make these deals available to you providing an easier, alternative way of complying with the Public Contract Regulations.

When schools use a framework agreement, they do not have to openly advertise the opportunity or follow the full procedural rules. Instead, schools can call off their specific requirements from the framework suppliers.

Call-offs are the final hurdle for the supplier to overcome so that they can begin working with you. Only once the call-off is completed and signed can the supplier start the work.

Some Frameworks allow Direct Awards, this is where you can award to a single preferred supplier.

There is also the option of using a DPS.

What is a DPS?

A Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) is a framework with the added flexibility of being able to add suppliers at any time. All Call Off’s are carried out by a Further Competition. Unlike a framework, where the suppliers are fixed.

All suppliers on a framework or DPS (unless the supplier is being added) will have followed a price and quality tender exercise, this means the school will not have to undertake a typical 3 quote or tender process as this has already been completed by the Framework provider. For some bespoke requirements the direct award option is not always possible, and you would have to run a mini competition.

Depending on the value of the procurement, schools must comply with key procurement rules. Procurements above certain thresholds must comply with the UK Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

The thresholds depend on the type of contract and apply to the whole value of the contract throughout its duration, including any possible extensions or renewal options. If schools purchase multiple successive contracts of the same type, the threshold applies to the aggregated spend of these contracts over a 12-month period.

We have a blog covering the PCR 2015 regulations and how you can be assured you remain compliant here.

Whatever you choose, whether it be a Framework or DPS it is crucial for schools to follow a formal tendering process for medium to high-value contracts.

This process ensures a fair, consistent, and effective approach to procurement exercises. The higher the value or complexity of the project, the more detailed the documentation needs to be, and the longer the process is likely to take so keep timelines in mind and plan around your contract’s end dates well in advance!

Tendering Timeline

Is your catering/cleaning contract due to expire in 2023? Do you need to check that you are getting best value from your current arrangements?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then now is the time to get the ball rolling to ensure you have time to run a compliant process and give yourself the best chance of making savings/avoiding added costs.

A full procurement process for complex goods or a services contract can take 6-9 months so plan in plenty of time a diarise reminders based on your contract register. Don’t have a contracts register? Click here and have all your contracts in one place so that you can track contract end dates.

When it comes to how long your contract should be, take your cleaning contract for example, we’d recommend basing the contract on how long you’re likely to want to keep the contract going for, so anything from 3 years to 5 years is probably the norm in most cases.

In other areas such as energy, this can be anything from 1 year to 3 years, with an annual review option.

This doesn’t have to mean you’re tied into the contract, as you can have review points and extension points where the contract can be cancelled or extended at the school’s discretion.

You may still be thinking, why does a tender take so long anyway? Let’s run through the tender process and the preparation required.

How to prepare for a tender

There are a few stages to preparing a tender, the first being – defining your requirement. This is where you should spend time upfront to thoroughly assess exactly what it is you need and why.

Think carefully about exactly what it is that you need and what key priorities you need to be delivered (often this is driven by your budget) that can dictate exactly what may be available or achievable at a particular price point.

Have you consulted the main stakeholders whether that is staff, pupils’ parents etc? Involve them as early as possible in the process so that the requirements are clearly defined from the start.

You should never underestimate the time needed to define the requirements and complete the specification. It is better to overestimate it than have to delay the tender process.

This is where we can help, our team of procurement experts can assist on delivering numerous good or services through our Frameworks and DPSs, while helping you through every step of the process.

After defining your requirements, it’s time to turn them into a specification. A specification is a comprehensive and detailed description of your requirements. Your specification should include the following:

  • Background and context
  • Overview of your school
  • Detailed description of requirements
  • Quality standards and performance requirements
  • Approval process
  • Exclusions
  • Inputs provided by your school

Following your specification being created, it’s time to create evaluation criteria. The evaluation criteria and weightings are an important part of the tendering process and indicate to potential suppliers how you will decide which supplier to award the contract to. 

Evaluation criteria and weightings form the basis upon which you select the supplier. The supplier that gets the highest score will be awarded the contract. It’s, therefore, important to reflect your school’s priorities when deciding on what weightings are going to be used. 

The evaluation criteria also communicates clearly to the potential suppliers how you will make to your decision to award a contract. This helps them to design a response to your tender which is well aligned with your priorities.

There are two key aspects to the evaluation criteria, the first is:

Selection Criteria – this is about evaluating the capability of the supplier themselves and is backward looking, meaning it looks for evidence that the supplier holds particular qualifications/accreditations, levels of financial standing and can demonstrate previous experience of delivering requirements similar to your own.

The second aspect is:

Award Criteria – this is focused on the goods and services to be delivered – and is forward looking. This means it asks suppliers how they will deliver your specific requirements.

Good award criteria relates directly to your specification and allows the evaluation panel to make fair and equal comparison of the bids received.

Critically, You need to publish your scoring methodology to all bidders upfront. It is best practice to publish your evaluation criteria and weightings to suppliers however, it is mandatory for above-threshold tenders.

Preparing Tender Documents:

After your specification and evaluation criteria are set, it’s time to create an Invitation to Tender Pack (ITT Pack).

The pack provides all necessary documentation to potential suppliers so that they can put together their best tender submission for your school. All suppliers must receive the same ITT pack and provide their submission in the same format to enable your school to evaluate on a ‘like for like’ basis.

An ITT Pack typically includes:

  • Instructions for bidders (how to submit a bid/deadlines etc…)
  • Your Specification (description of requirements)
  • Tender Reply Forms:
    • Supplier Questionnaire (document in which they must submit their selection criteria and quality/method statement responses)
    • Pricing Schedule (open book costing matrix – detailing how their pricing is made up)
    • Form of Certificate – which is a declaration that their submission has been prepared in good faith, is correct to their best of their knowledge, that they have not colluded in any way and that they agree to be bound by the terms and conditions provided should they be successful.
  • Terms and Conditions

Don’t forget, treat all suppliers the same! You must be open and transparent at all times!

After receiving your bids from potential suppliers it’s time to evaluate them.

Evaluating & Awarding Bid Submissions

Once the deadline for submissions has ended, evaluate the received bids in accordance to your published evaluation criteria. It’s important to note that you should conduct the evaluations with a panel of people, ideally 2-3 people.

Don’t be afraid to get expert advice if you aren’t confident in your ability to assess bids, give yourself a lot of time to thoroughly go through each bid and make sure you are not influenced by assumption or generic advice.

Also, keep a formal record of every submission and their scoring so you have a clear auditable trail in the event of a challenge.

Once you’ve made your decision, be sure to inform both the successful and unsuccessful suppliers. This is to help avoid the risk of challenge so you can provide evidence you awarded based only on the evaluation criteria as published in the ITT pack. Not being able to evidence that you have done so puts you and your school at serious risk.

Finally, when it comes to awarding the contract, we recommend a formal award letter to be sent to the successful bidder – confirming your requirements and seeking a written acceptance from your chosen supplier.


As a professional procurement service with extensive knowledge of public sector procurement, we can recommend the most suitable routes to market and help you access approved Framework Agreements, or manage your tender process.

Education buying can provide help and information on a wide range of framework agreements. This ensures that schools’ procurement is compliant, and they benefit from supplier management and pre-agreed terms while continuing to achieve great outcomes.

To conclude, the tendering process can seem long and difficult however, it is a vitally important process that impacts all aspects of your school and those that work/learn within it. There are a few different ways you can go about the tendering process, whether using Frameworks or DPSs and there are organisations out there such as Education Buying that are here to help make your contracts go further and save more.

If you’d like to see our Frameworks and DPSs click here, our procurement experts are on hand to help you with any and all requests.