Eight out of ten local authorities have bought educational IT systems illegally, leaving schools open to a wave of legal action, according to a survey released last week.
The study, by IT quango Becta, looked at how local authorities buy school management information systems (MIS), which track pupil attainment. It found that the overwhelming majority of local authorities have not followed UK and EU procurement law when renewing schools' MIS contracts.
Only 20 per cent of local authorities were compliant with these rules - which demand that such contracts are opened up to competitive tender - leaving the remaining 80 per cent open to "significant" legal challenges.
Another consequence is that the vast majority of schools are tied to just one MIS provider, which has led to them paying over the odds.
The report states: "Local authorities should examine the opportunity to protect themselves and their schools from the potentially significant consequences of a court ruling that their MIS supply and maintenance arrangements are in breach of EU and UK procurement law.
"The relevance of such findings takes on significant importance given that over the lifetime of this parliament, the costs to schools of MIS licensing, maintenance and support is likely to exceed #163;550 million."
In a statement, Becta warned that changes to procurement law in December last year have left schools and local authorities open to legal action. "This directive makes it much easier for suppliers to mount a challenge to procurement behaviour which they consider to be outside the law," it said.
The Department for Education welcomed the report, adding that it will look at how schools and town halls procure their systems.
A DfE spokesperson said: "It is vital that local authorities ensure that competition is fair, and that the services provided to schools represent good value for money for the taxpayer."
But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said having to renew MIS provision through competitive tender would be another unnecessary inconvenience for headteachers.
"MIS systems are of crucial importance to the effective operation of schools," Mr Lightman said. "They have rightly and necessarily invested heavily in terms of time and resources in order to put these in place.
"The last thing that schools or local authorities need in times of economic constraint are expensive and time-consuming procurement exercises."
MIS IN NEED OF RADICAL OVERHAUL
- 80 per cent of local authorities fall foul of UK and EU procurement law.
- Schools and town halls are open to "significant" legal challenges.
- Schools should protect themselves from possible legal action.
- School MIS cost to taxpayer will exceed #163;550 million over the next five years.
- MIS marketplace is still dominated by a single provider.
- Report calls for Department to look at providing better value for money.