Andy Homden looks at free new directory, Schoolserve.com, designed to enable international schools find and tender for resources and services, something which might just make one aspect of planning a little easier.
The cruellest month
For school leaders, November is the cruellest month. The school year is underway. New staff are beginning to settle. This year has been particularly difficult, but there is a sense of relief that new systems are bedding in, the timetables are working out, adjustments have been made, and before you know it, half term has come . . . . and gone.
However, there is little time to breathe out and your eyes are already on the coming year. Who is planning to leave? The conversations have begun. What are the student numbers looking like for January – and as you get the crystal ball out, how are they going to look next September? Christmas productions may or may not be happening this year, but everything has gained momentum and, disrupted as it has been, you have to keep things moving forward.
Value for money
Even before Covid, and as the competition between schools grew, Headteachers and Business Managers have all come under increasing pressure to demonstrate value for money in their financial planning, with Boards and owners requiring further research, second and third quotes in their procurement planning process. Set against the legitimate, but demanding expectations of parents that the school provides the very best for their children and the need to recruit and retain the best teachers, the workload grows.
SLT in a huddle
The projections game is under way, and budget presentations are being planned. The Senior Leadership Team go into a huddle while life goes on around them, and the various teams throughout the school start putting together their wish lists (‘please don’t call them that’) for a raft of new resources that just have to be acquired if effective provision is going to be maintained next year. Although staff have re-grouped to form another great team with the newbies absorbed into the culture of the school, and in turn enriching it, the pressure is now on to advertise for crucial positions that will have to be filled for next year and to get some of the appointments secured quickly.
The two-edged sword of choice
Coherent and flexible strategic planning has never been more important as you get organised, but this is what you do and you get on with it. Of course, there is a revolution underway now with the accelerated use of online resources. In some ways this makes things easier – in others more complex. There are special offers, free trials and then important decisions to be made that might see the school committed for a significant period of time.
Having greater choice for the vast range of resources and services that a school needs is a two edged sword. There is a bewildering array of medical insurance; professional development programmes; consultancy services as well as the more obvious physical and digital resources required by a modern international school. The number of providers has exploded with the growth of international education, but finding the best fit for the school (not necessarily the cheapest) has only become more demanding.
Cutting the Gordian knot
What is really needed is a platform that draws things together enabling a comparison of like with like and facilitates research for potential new suppliers. At least that is what one group of international educational suppliers thought. They engaged a team of software writers who knew the sector to see where they could get and ended up with what amounts to a new trade directory and tendering platform called Schoolserve.com Their motivation isn’t difficult to understand.
Finding new customers by attending the round of international school conferences had already become largely self-defeating. Networking opportunities were becoming over-crowded, conference delegates understandably were more interested in discussing educational issues with their peers rather than listening to stallholders. Knocking on the doors of international schools was no less easy and involved a seemingly endless road trip that is difficult to set up, and never quite gets you over the feeling that you are intruding rather than providing the support you wanted to give.
Free service for schools
The designers of Schoolserve.com thought life had to be easier for a school in their search for suppliers of resources and services, whether they needed a set of Early Years reading resources, an alternative provider for an NPQH programme or a new recruiting agent. With so many other demands on a school’s budget, any, one-stop-shop for finding a supplier or organising a tender not only had to be easy to use, it also had to be free.
So this is what they set up.
An idea whose time has come?
Like anything new, time will only tell if this initiative will make a profound difference to the way things are done. However, with significant experience in the sector, the people at Schoolserve.com have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and understand the difficulties international schools experience when it comes to procurement.
While they have real confidence in the service, they want as much feedback as possible as people take it up. Both good signs.
Schoolserve.com was conceived and planned in the pre-Covid era, but it might just be that an online directory for sourcing international school supplies and services, while also providing a free tendering platform might be a a concept whose time has come sooner than expected. With no budget implications for schools, and with November now upon us, it might be an idea to put your toe in the water to see if it works.
In a teaching career of over thirty years Andy Homden has served as the Headteacher of several leading international schools, including the Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok Patana School and Jumeira Baccalaureate School. He is now the CEO of international schools consultancy, Consilium Education, who are collaborating with SchoolServe in the launch of their new online service.
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