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Top Considerations For School Suppliers in 2024

Top Considerations For School Suppliers in 2024

There have been significant challenges in the UK education sector over recent years which are important for school suppliers to understand to maximise their education marketing and learn how to sell to schools more effectively. Cost of living increases have not stopped at the school gates and with energy prices remaining high schools face ongoing financial pressures. This coupled with the issues of teacher pay and the concern around the condition of school buildings nationwide it’s no wonder schools look to school suppliers to provide high levels of support and expertise while ensuring the very best value for money. Incensu identifies the top considerations for suppliers in 2024 to successfully sell to schools and grow their business in the UK education sector.

20 May 2024

Public Sector Pay & Energy Costs

Following months of strike action, at the end of the summer term, the government accepted recommendations from the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) for an increase in teachers’ pay of 6.5%. This coupled with energy costs and inflation that remain high, schools find themselves in a very precarious position when it comes to managing their budgets. Peter Melville, Chief Operating Officer at SWECET Multi-Academy Trust commented “All schools now face an unprecedented energy crisis. Uncapped energy bills with no financial support provided by government means that the cost of heating and providing power to schools is approximately 300% more than a year ago. For a small MAT, this could equate to between £200-400K extra expense compared to 2022, if energy use remains the same. Simply, schools must be more energy efficient, avoid wasting energy, and invest wisely in facilities.” Asked to provide more detail on this to help suppliers, Peter added “Schools will undoubtedly seek to improve their estates in terms of energy efficiency by installing PV solutions, thermostatic control systems, insulation, and LED lighting and sensors, thus potentially providing opportunities for reputable suppliers in these industries.”

It seems inevitable that even schools with healthy reserves face considerable challenges if they are not able to address the significant cost increases this academic year. Where suppliers can offer solutions to combat the squeeze on budgets such as income generation, cost reduction, automation, and digitisation that save teachers and school leaders time and therefore reduce costs this is likely to be welcomed by schools.

While hearing the doom and gloom of school budgets from a school perspective it’s well worth noting for suppliers that it remains the case that the UK education budget for the fiscal year ending March 2023 was £105.5 billion (4.2% of GDP) and for the year ending March 2024 is £108.5 billion. So, while it’s clear that there is funding in the sector it’s vital you position your business as ‘essential’ or ‘stunning’ if schools are going to spend their part of this allocation with your organisation.

It’s also worth looking behind the headlines about tight school budgets and recognising that schools can also increase their allocated funding in a range of ways for specific purposes. For example, schools can also bid annually for additional Condition Improvement Funding (CIF), access Urgent Capital Support (UCS), or make use of a wide range of grants and fundraising opportunities. Incensu highly recommends FundEd as a source of information on education sector grants and fundraising not only for schools but also to empower suppliers to guide potential school customers towards opportunities to raise the money required to purchase your products and services.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

There has been much in the news over the past year about teacher recruitment and retention and with teacher strikes earlier in the year causing significant disruption the issue was brought into sharper focus. Teachers have been leaving the profession in droves due to a combination of teacher pay, workload, pressures from government (including the new expectations around the Schools White Paper), the fallout from the pandemic, and the demands of supporting the recovery which have all taken their toll. Add to this the announcement of the new Advanced British Standard (ABS) one promise of which includes more teaching hours for 16-19-year-olds, and it’s no wonder the DfE is keen to respond to the predictions of huge teacher shortages.

In October 2023 came the announcement of a £196 million boost to support new trainee teachers by providing financial incentives to help plug the gap, particularly in STEM subjects where the skills are being sought elsewhere in the economy. A further £600 million investment was revealed to help resource the new ABS. Despite this school leaders remain stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do they remain compliant and actively focus on the changes recommended while balancing this with the needs of staff? It seems like an impossible ask, yet as suppliers you are in a position to be able to provide some of the answers as schools seek the support of recruitment agencies, training organisations, and education technology companies to make life easier for overworked teachers and employee benefits that promote a sense of value. Suppliers are encouraged to consider the challenges that schools are facing on this front in order to offer solutions. Think about how your products and services can help make a school more appealing to new staff through improved facilities, better behaviour management procedures, ongoing CPD opportunities, or the latest education technologies that help reduce workload while improving attainment.

Investment in technology

Over the past decade, we’ve certainly seen a considerable rise in education technology to support learning in the classroom. However, the stratospheric increase in edtech as a result of the pandemic brought schools well into the 21st Century. Since then, the demand in schools for edtech has shown no sign of slowing but rather seen it become far more embedded in every facet of our education system. The most significant note here is the use of technology not only to support learning but also in the running of schools, collaboration between staff and suppliers, and delivery of training to name a few and there appears no appetite in schools to return to more onerous analogue ways of doing things. Consider how your business can speed up and simplify tasks undertaken by teachers and back office staff as strides made here are being particularly well received in schools.

Even if as a supplier, you are more hands-on and practical in your approach it’s worth considering how to ensure the initial marketing, communication, and planning options are digital in addition to any after-sales service and support in order to make the process smooth and efficient to match the digital upgrade to our schools. Many school budget holders are searching for suppliers while on the go – school business leaders walking around a school site for example or headteachers on the daily commute, teachers having a quick search for department resources while taking a break in the staff room, or a MAT CEO visiting different schools in their trust rather than at their desk. Your website must be mobile responsive, you must be active on social media and your business is visible right at the point schools are searching on the National Register of Education Suppliers at 

Subscription Licenses

In line with going digital is the consideration of how you bill your school clients. Software companies were the trailblazers when it came to offering subscription licenses, with rolling monthly contracts becoming the norm. As you will no doubt be aware from your own purchasing habits, we have become familiar with subscription licenses for example Netflix, Amazon Music, Broadband services, etc. and it’s the same for schools. This is a great consideration for you as a supplier as a subscription service offering can provide you with a stable monthly income, a lower outlay for you to attract new schools, and a likely longer ongoing contract.

Blended Learning

I reluctantly raise the topic of ‘home-schooling’ as I’m sure for many this is not something that you will want to think back to! However, it was certainly the start for many students of accessing some degree of learning online. For many schools, there was a scramble to radically improve their computer network to support learning with teachers working around the clock to plan new virtual lessons, design digital content, and prepare online assessments. While it seemed like mission impossible at the outset many teachers have seen the benefits that a blended learning approach can bring where students can learn via a combined style of traditional face-to-face lessons as well as electronic media. Three years on students can now advance their learning through a range of styles at times to suit them while becoming far more independent learners. It’s something that many teachers have welcomed as integral to their teaching and should be a consideration for many suppliers when thinking about how best to provide education resources for schools.

In evolutionary terms, schools have adapted well and are now far more invested in subscription services that support this blended learning approach. Consider how your business could extend your offering beyond the classroom to offer supported or extended learning opportunities through online provision. This could be through mobile apps, an edtech opportunity that has gained huge momentum in recent years. Students access learning through their mobile devices younger and younger and parents are always seeking educational opportunities to make up the bulk of their children’s screen time. With careful design that has safeguarding and privacy central to your offering, this is another huge opportunity for school suppliers to tap into.

Staff Training – Safeguarding, Health and Safety, Fire Protection & Privacy

Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 sets out the requirement for schools to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and safer recruitment is set out in the ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE)’ document and is well worth a read for suppliers so you are fully aware of what schools need to do to remain compliant. By being aware of the responsibilities of adults who spend time with children in education you can tailor your provision and marketing to reassure schools when working with your business. The same goes when considering data privacy – the protection of children’s data and that of school staff is of paramount importance and will be essential for you to demonstrate you are helping schools remain compliant on this front. Additional expectations have been placed on school staff more recently in terms of extra training around Health and Safety and Fire Protection. With all staff now far more aware of the role they play in maintaining a safe educational environment they will be far more receptive to marketing from suppliers who recognise this and can offer confident support around such issues.

Attendance Drive

With attendance a significant issue following the return to school post-lockdown there has been a need for many schools to act. Schools are encouraged to offer a clear vision of attendance underpinned by high expectations and core values. Schools are provided with additional government guidance on how attendance links with school improvement and safeguarding emphasising the role that the senior team, staff, governors, and parents have in ensuring good attendance. Schools rely on a wide range of suppliers to support their work on attendance from edtech companies providing software to monitor and analyse data and track interventions to staff training to support behaviour, develop rapport, and apply escalation procedures. An awareness of the importance of attendance and a clear vision of how your product or service can support schools to maintain a robust approach will be an important aspect of your education marketing this academic year.

Well-being, Behaviour and Mental Health

Promoting wellbeing and supporting the mental health of staff and students is now fundamental to the running of schools.

The findings of the third (wave 3) in a series of follow-up reports to the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey, conducted in 2022 revealed that 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years had a probable mental disorder. Mental health disorders in young people include anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, PTSD, eating disorders, and self-harm among others, and require a range of supportive interventions.

Staff well-being is now well recognised as being an essential aspect of leadership and management of schools. A supportive, caring environment in which staff feel valued and motivated does much to promote good mental health and is crucial in retaining teachers and support staff in the sector.

Suppliers with a good understanding of this and able to support schools whether through the promotion of play, outdoor learning, workshops, training, employee benefits or other innovative means have a vital role to play. With many schools making this a priority it’s vital for suppliers to make their solutions clear in their communication with schools.

Face to Face Exhibitions are changing

Incensu recognises the value of a wide marketing mix when it comes to success as a supplier in the UK education sector. While having an impressive profile on Incensu’s National Register of Education Suppliers and having a solid online presence by way of a visible website and active social media channels Incensu also highly recommends face-to-face exhibitions to its members.

Before diving in and booking this year’s conferences and exhibitions or signing sponsorship agreements, remember to get instant access to the generous discount codes for all Incensu members saving suppliers thousands on regional and national events. If you’ve yet to exhibit at an education show or conference, you may want to add this to your marketing strategy but it’s worth noting that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all all when it comes to attending these conventions. The style and offering of education shows have changed over recent years and now, as well as the traditional style exhibition, there are also far more targeted events with a very specific audience. These provide much more opportunity for suppliers to engage in a more meaningful way with the budget holders who have already expressed interest in the products and services your organisation offers. Discover more about the various events and how they can benefit your business in Incensu’s education marketing videos.   

The Schools and Academies Show returns to the ExCeL, London on the 1st May 2024. With their events attracting over 6,000 delegates collectively it gives suppliers a great opportunity to showcase their brand to education leaders, budget holders, and senior buyers. BETT at ExCeL, London (24-26 January 2024) is the world’s leading education technology show and another highly recommended event for edtech suppliers. For regional exhibition opportunities in 2024 the Education People Show based in the South-East takes place in November with the Northern and Eastern Education Shows both returning in June 2024. For suppliers whose target audience is the Early Years or Primary sector the Childcare and Education Expo has events in the Midlands (27-28 September) and London (1-2 March 2024). Other highly recommended events include those run by MATPN - Multi Academy Trust Partnership Network and MATA - Multi Academy Trust Association as well as conferences run by ISBL - The Institute of School Business Leadership and NAHT - The School Leaders Union. 


School Resource Management and Frameworks

In June 2022 the government published the policy paper ‘School Resource Management: Building a stronger system’. The paper is aimed at all individuals in schools with responsibility for managing school resources to support schools and academies in making the best value procurement decisions. It relates not only to the physical products and outsourced services for schools but also to the teachers, leaders, facilities, and technology across the learning environment.

Schools and academy trusts spend more than £12 billion a year on non-staff spend and the government aims to support schools in getting the best value from every pound by reducing cost and getting best value for money, supporting the management of estates, maximising the use of digital technology and improving the use of data to benchmark and inform decisions. They are helping schools achieve this by setting up the ‘Get help buying for schools’ service. In addition to the specialist support offered to schools with complex procurement, they offer a range of routes to purchase goods and services through department-approved frameworks. Suppliers should ensure they become familiar with the types of frameworks available within the education sector, not only are there government frameworks but other frameworks, buying hubs, and purchasing consortia. Going through the tender process and being awarded a place on a framework is a great route to market for many suppliers, particularly in categories such as catering, cleaning, ICT, furniture, facilities management, door access, fire alarm systems, education supplies or energy and utilities to name a few. As well as the government’s buying service Incensu would also highly recommend Education Buying, Crescent Purchasing Consortium, YPO, and Schools Buying Club. 

Source: Incensu Education Marketing Resource

Incensu says:

For more in-depth analysis and guidance on selling to schools, join Incensu today for instant access to a wealth of training materials, videos, templates, and more in the Education Marketing Hub - Huge discounts on all other recommended education marketing opportunities can also be found in the Hub, saving your business significantly more on your education marketing budget than the Incensu membership!