8 Reasons why schools are bad at buying

So often, one of the simplest areas of improving education is overlooked – improving the way schools purchase. Peter Morgan, CEO of SchoolAdvisor, has 6 years of experience selling into the school market and says that ‘Schools are not great at buying, they end up with the wrong products and services at the wrong price which is detrimental to education’.

Schools have limited budgets and one incorrect purchase has a big impact. Facilitating sound financial management and governance is key to great education.

To understand why schools procure badly we need to understand the challenges faced by schools. Here are Peter’s top 8 challenges that schools face:

1. Supplier overload leads to gatekeepers: With swimming pools, fields, computer labs, classrooms, edtech, websites, school clothing, to name a few, schools are faced with more suppliers than most other organisations. Multiple suppliers are vying for their attention.

To protect themselves from being bombarded, schools block new suppliers with gatekeepers, often settling with inferior products or services.

2. Multiple Decision Makers: Multiple players sign off on any new service or product. Think of the IT department signing off on a new computer and the head of maintenance getting quotes on new paint as the first level, these then need to go up the line through department heads, districts, heads, Governing Bodies etc before they get final sign off.

Decisions to upgrade a service or product are thus often delayed. In some cases, the effort is not worth pursuing it.

3. Relational Decision Making: Schools will often make a purchasing decision based on a relationship with the supplier rather than key factors.

4. Lack of knowledge: Schools are uninformed about better tools or services and ill-equipped to evaluate their present suppliers. This especially applies to evaluating international products and services.

5. Buying consortiums haven’t worked. It makes sense for schools to pool together to purchase giving economies of scale. This doesn’t happen as the key decision makers are not willing to give up control. It has also been seen in Africa and many developing nations that corruption rules.

It is what is personally pocketed that counts, which means the consortium doesn’t buy the best at the best price.

6. No accountability among suppliers: Schools with bad purchasing stories are limited to sharing with their peers with whom they are in direct contact.

This allows suppliers to sell products and services to schools when they have a bad track record – schools just don’t know any better.

7. Big funded sales forces win: I have seen this first hand. The bigger the sales force the more chance schools will pick up on it. Smaller and often better products or services can’t get the uptake and cannot sustain themselves.

8. Decision makers don’t use the product or service: In most cases, the people making the purchasing decision don’t use the product or service.

Products get brought and then don’t perform as the person using them was not involved in the decision-making process and couldn’t advise on what would work

A lot of the above challenges will always be there but we have to get better at procurement. Harold Levy, a former chancellor of New York’s public schools, sums it up as follows: ‘The overall message is clear: we need to fix procurement so that the most effective products prevail.

In the current system, the best product doesn’t necessarily win. We need to fix procurement now’.

SchoolAdvisor is a platform that was birthed to help schools make more effective purchases, improving their financial governance. Schools need a place where they can find, evaluate, review and see what their peers say about a school service or product.

This will go a long way in combating many of the challenges faced by schools and will help them get the best product or service for their needs. One more way to help improve education.

SchoolAdvisor aims to improve the way schools make purchasing decisions.