Martin Armytage, Head of Education at YPO, discusses the challenges faced this year across the education sector
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history. The closure of schools and educational establishments around the UK has resulted in a seismic shift in the way that education is delivered. With more spending required on deep-cleaning and sanitation, along with investment in the infrastructure required to deliver learning digitally, the financing of education looks set to face major challenges, further exacerbating pre-COVID-19 education funding gaps.
As the UK’s largest public-sector buying organisation, YPO has worked closely with the education sector since 1974, driving savings through its bulk buying power for product supplies and centralised contract services. This year, the company has been agile and innovative in its approach, helping to create efficiencies wherever possible through the introduction of several new initiatives.
COVID: Adapting operations to meet demand
The arrival of the global COVID pandemic in early 2020 had a far-reaching impact on all sectors, with businesses quickly needing to adapt to new ways of working to survive. For the education sector, buying priorities shifted, with an immediate focus on product-led services for cleaning, hygiene, PPE, and food products, as well as IT support for the increase in home-working across the sector. With investment in PPE alone seeing an increase in spending of over 550% versus 2019, YPO needed to quickly adjust its focus to meet changing demand.
To meet this challenge, YPO worked closely with business managers, headteachers and suppliers to identify pressure points, find appropriate solutions, develop services and adapt insurance contracts. This shift in focus helped to ensure that schools, their local authorities, emergency services, healthcare providers, and the wider public sector were equipped with the tools needed to react to the changing situation.
The buying organisation also worked closely with the Home to School app, Vectare, to adapt the app to meet the needs of the pandemic. Initially designed to help parents monitor their children’s journeys on school buses, the app was updated to monitor capacity onboard buses to support social distancing on each journey. Track and Trace capabilities were also integrated into the software to create student by student contact reports, sending GDPR compliant notifications to parents if a student or driver reports symptoms.
Supporting the post-COVID recovery curriculum
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on the way we deliver/access information, share knowledge and deliver education. In addition to taking a practical approach to the provision of product lead services, YPO was able to leverage its ongoing partnership with online educational publisher Twinkl in order to support homeschooling and the recovery curriculum.
EdTech Impact have also been working alongside YPO and their education technology suppliers to get an effective home learning offering to pupils in response to the pandemic. As a result of this activity, they have managed to secure free access to over 400 high quality learning resources for children throughout the UK.
The sudden shift away from classroom-based learning has made Twinkl’s expertise in educational resources and its vast range of digital teaching materials increasingly relevant. To this end, YPO has worked closely with the company to deliver a range of digital resources to support home-schooling, the recovery curriculum since the return to school in September, and the ongoing need for digital resources when classes are required to isolate.
In addition to the successful Twinkl partnership, YPO has also continued to sponsor Roald Dahl Learning Resources, providing schools with lesson plans and resources centred around some of the most loved Roald Dahl books. The resources are created to align with National Curriculum learning objectives for English, Maths, Science and PSHE, providing schools with additional free resources that have also been invaluable in the ongoing supply of home-learning resources during the pandemic.
Delivering value and increasing efficiency
While the provision of these practical resources and solutions has been a key focus for YPO throughout 2020, the company has continued to introduce new and innovative ways to add value to its services. To this end, 2020 also saw the launch of two solutions intended to reduce the complexity of the procurement process in schools.
Compliant purchasing in the public sector often comes hand in hand with admin-heavy and complex procurement processes. To address this, YPO introduced a digital framework solution that is designed to provide up to 15%-time efficiency savings, as well as streamlining processes to allow customers to respond quickly to emerging demands as a result of COVID-19.
This commitment to simplifying complex processes and reducing the time burden on schools has been further strengthened by the introduction of the Contracts for Schools team. The Contracts for Schools team provides a wealth of procurement expertise as a free resource, helping schools to maximise their buying power and simplify the procurement process while also remaining compliant with public sector procurement regulations.
£7.7 million reinvested in the sector
As well as providing considerable savings via frameworks and procurement support for the delivery of essential services for schools and public sector organisations, YPO’s member and associate member authorities also receive a share of profits, which are paid back to them to reinvest in local services. In 2020, YPO delivered £7.7 million in dividends to local authorities across the country. With the specific and unprecedented challenges poised by 2020, as well as the pressure of reduced budgets and public spending scrutiny, this dividend increasingly helps to fund crucial frontline services, allowing them to provide more for less.