Evaluating new service providers within education is a very difficult and time-consuming process. With that in mind, our Education Product Specialist, Alice O’Shea, has put together some valuable insights for Trusts who are looking at procurement frameworks and tenders for VoIP (hosted telephony)/IT services.

Having spent a lot of time writing and responding to tenders within educational establishments myself, I want to highlight a few points of concern that need to be addressed and shared. Often when it comes to an overhaul of technical services, so many fundamental things are missed which then cost a great deal of time and money. Budgets are tight, and for most schools if the annual budget is not spent, you may get less the next year which isn’t ideal when you need to make the switch to VoIP.

So, how should your Trust ‘Be More Prepared’ for going out to tender?

The importance of site surveys

Site surveys are vital! Imagine going through the tender process and realising that all your requirements are wrong when you have already agreed on a cost model. Pricing discounts agreed with suppliers are based on the quantities authorised. If there is a decrease, the rates per handset/extension will increase. I often see handset requirements that are wildly inaccurate; this is because the right questions haven’t been flagged internally.  Sometimes schools require less handsets or bigger quantities, so you need to consider the following:

1. Do I have a budget for additional cabling and data points to be installed?

2. What is my current solution, and how many handsets do I currently have vs how many do I actually need?

3. Do I have a senior leadership/head office team that need to be contactable at all times who require softphone capabilities?

4. Do I have a dedicated emergency plan that is linked to my communications platform? If so, how does it work, and can I enact a lockdown/invacuation externally from the playground/sports hall etc (why pay between £10,000 to £20,000 towards tannoy systems when you can receive this dedicated service through a VoIP Platform, unless there is a requirement to split it)? Can this be used in the event of a lockdown, and can it support children on EHCP care plans should there be a medical emergency?

Contract expiry dates

Make sure you are aware of when your contracts expire. I’ve seen so many commitments made via schools who are not aware they are still in contract, and as a result have hefty termination fees. Once you sign with a new supplier, you also have to adhere to their terms of service where live dates are agreed; I’ve seen a rise in double payments to two different suppliers because there was no due diligence in the first place. I have also seen a rise in company bases being acquired by bigger outfits and issuing a new contract whilst the schools remain oblivious. Don’t be afraid to have those conversations with Ofcom if your existing suppliers are playing hardball!

1. Tell your existing supplier that you will be going out to tender.

2. Find out what your termination dates are, and if all those services line up. All too often you will quickly see that if you have added additional lines or extensions over the years, this will have extended your contract term.

3. Always ask for access to your portal with a supplier when you are looking at a multisite solution. This enables you to compare your existing lines and services, and what’s being billed vs what is live. You may have extensions, services for alarms or lift lines that you have already migrated but are still being charged for.

The next steps

Once you have completed the above, it’s time to ask yourself these further questions.

1. What are your main points of focus for communication? These could include:

  • Risk reduction.
  • Policy compliance and support.
  • Emergency planning and lockdown procedures.
  • Time management and efficiency improvement.
  • Accessibility and productivity enhancement.
  • Support for the welfare of children and staff.
  • Alarms and safety measures.
  • Safeguarding children & staff.

2. What features do I need to include, and is the solution built with what matters most to my School? Potential features include:

  • Security lockdown for intruder alerts.
  • Paging alerts for emergencies and public announcements.
  • Dedicated support lines for students/welfare support line for families.
  • Automated and detailed call reporting to ensure all unreturned missed calls are picked up.
  • Night mode for optimised functionality (it’s as simple as pressing a button on your handset).
  • Conference calls with PIN codes for secure communication with children on EHCP (Education & Health Care Plans).
  • Calls recorded – do they automatically link with a parent/child’s folder so they can be downloaded immediately at the click of a button? Consider how this is linked to your MIS platform.

3. What policies should I align this with for compliancy? These could include:

  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
  • DfE (2018) ‘Health and safety: responsibilities and duties for schools’.
  • DfE (2015) ‘Emergency planning and response’.
  • DfE (2019) ‘School and college security’.
  • National Counter Terrorism Security Office (2015) ‘Developing Dynamic Lockdown Procedures’, soon to be supported by ‘Martyn’s Law’.

The final element

The last part is establishing what you want the training to look like. This could include a basic overview for how to make and receive calls, through to transferring, and larger elements such as live broadcasting of announcements and lockdown training. Ask all your staff questions on things they enjoy vs improvements that need to be made.

Knowledge is power, and as I get frequent requests and see the same mistakes made, I know how important it is to ensure consistency, particularly when your Trust is paying a company to write the tender and consider all the above.

If you need help and are unsure of what to include for your Trust, please do not hesitate to reach out on 0800 652 5612.