Exclusive: DfE pulls £15m Covid catch-up aids contract

Procurement for teacher resources ended hours before bidding was due to close
12th May 2021, 11:10am


Exclusive: DfE pulls £15m Covid catch-up aids contract

Primary School

The government has pulled its multi-million pound contract for school Covid catch-up resources on the same day that bidding was due to close, Tes can reveal.

Last week, ministers were warned that the “quality” of the proposed catch-up aids for teachers was at risk from a tendering process that may “discriminate” against some suppliers.

Now the contract has been pulled altogether.

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A message sent by the Department for Education (DfE) shortly before 9am this morning, seen by Tes, said it had decided to “withdraw” the contract.

“I am contacting you to inform you of the Department for Education’s decision to withdraw the procurement for ‘Supporting Education Recovery: In-class Curriculum Resources’,” it said.

“We recognise that this news will come as a disappointment and would like to express our thanks for all your time and effort invested in the procurement process until now.”

The DfE said it had “already taken significant steps” to address the impact of the pandemic, and was now “working on a longer-term strategy to support education recovery, building on the evidence that is still emerging”.

“We are working alongside the recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, and other policy teams, to ensure that any future policy development around curriculum resources supports this work, including how exemplar curriculum materials may support teachers and the development of a high-quality knowledge-rich curriculum, reduce workload, and be delivered by the sector,” the message said.

The department added that it had received “useful comments and questions from potential bidders” in response to the tender, which it wanted to “take time to reflect on as part of our wider considerations, rather than press ahead with the procurement”.

“There has been positive interest in the procurement since publication of the contract notice and, following launch of the invitation to tender, the decision to end the procurement process has not been taken lightly, and we greatly appreciate the time and interest that the education sector has invested,” the message said.

“We would urge you all to continue to look out for opportunities to supply your services to the public sector and thank you again for your time on this procurement process.”

Last month, Tes revealed that the government’s budget for the school Covid catch-up resources - including sequenced lessons, formative assessment and workbooks - had more than trebled, to a maximum of £15 million.

But last week, Caroline Wright, director-general of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), warned that some organisations may have been barred from bidding because the DfE had set “unrealistic deadlines” for them to meet the terms of the contract.

Asked about today’s news, Ms Wright said: “I welcome the DfE’s willingness to listen to and engage with the comments and concerns received regarding the in-class curriculum resources tender. I am pleased that they are taking time to reflect on the issues raised.

“BESA is keen to continue to work with the DfE and wider school community to support the ambitions stated in the government’s education recovery programme to help pupils and learners receive the support they need post-pandemic.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “The government is working alongside recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins to develop a long-term plan to make sure all pupils have the chance to recover from the impact of the pandemic as quickly and comprehensively as possible.

“We have ended the procurement for in-class curriculum resources to ensure that the policy aligns with our broader education recovery plans and recognises the disruption pupils and schools have faced over the last year.”

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