Schools Cluster Together to Find New Service Providers for the Next Academic Year

As a result of some local councils and service providers (catering, cleaning etc.) withdrawing from the education sector due to the challenging market conditions, we’re noticing a new ‘clustering’ trend emerging amongst schools.

‘Clustering’ is where schools, who have been given notice by their service providers, cluster together with other nearby schools in their area to give them enhanced buying power found within larger groups or operations.

Typically, this isn’t the way schools tend to operate; however, given the challenging market conditions being faced, this relatively new way of working is providing schools with a viable way forward and helps ensure they get service provider partners in place and in time for the new academic year.

Neil Cook, Associate Consultant at Litmus, says: “These aren’t usual times, and it’s increasingly difficult for service providers to make the numbers work. Inflation, food costs and energy prices are increasing, and unfortunately, school funding isn’t – or at least not at the same rate as inflation – hence we have seen a number of providers withdraw from the education sector as it’s just not financially viable for them anymore.

“Clusters present their own, unique challenges – which is inevitable when you have a group of schools coming together; each with their own objectives, requirements and views on what good looks like.

“We’ve already established working groups with schools that are seeking new providers in time for the new academic year. I have been leading these working groups and helping to address any concerns the schools may have. Certainly, clustering together does not mean that schools will receive a ‘one size fits all’ solution; each school’s individual differences and needs will still be mirrored. For example, each provider that wishes to pitch for the work will need to put forward individual tenders for each school, and once a provider is agreed, there will be individual contracts drawn up between the provider and each school.

“Indeed, the ‘winner’ doesn’t take all; it might be that a provider ends up working with three or four schools out of the cluster and then a different provider works with some of the others. This approach enables contractors to find a financially viable way of still operating within the sector and gives schools a solution to find a provider that meets their particular needs and keep their establishment running smoothly.”

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The Litmus team