Many schools have introduced systems that allow parents to pay online for items such as school meals or trips, eliminating the need to send pupils in with cash and cheques. Education Business reports on this trend
Practically everything is paid for electronically these days, whether it be via your debit card or smartphone. Many schools have also adapted their payment methods by introducing systems that allow parents to pay online for items such as school meals or trips without the need for sending pupils in with notes and coins.
Since the Bank of England introduced new polymer notes and high street banks began to close, additional costs and challenges to cash-based schools are being presented, along with security risks of keeping cash on-site.
The amount of schools ditching cash as a means of payment for school items has grown in a bid to cut down on administration time and costs. This option allows parents to top up an electronic account online or at a local pay point, instead of sending their children to school with a cheque or a pocket full of change.
Since the first cashless system was introduced in 2003, there have been many changes to the way schools run in terms of money, which can benefit the school, the local authority, and the pupils.
In 2004, Croydon Council embarked on a project to use a cashless system from ParentPay to pay for school meals. In cases where parents had limited access to the internet, the system also allowed for top‑ups at local PayPoint shops, as well as still accepting cash payments. Within a couple of years, Croydon schools began to use the system for all parent payments, such as for school trips and uniform.
Croydon Council saw many benefits to using the system, and now more than 80 per cent of secondary schools in the area have become cashless, along with 75 per cent of primary schools in the same area.
Marrianne Lewis, who was responsible for commissioning the Croydon project, commented at the time: “It’s been a great success, schools were reporting that administration time associated with parent income had reduced by 80 per cent in some cases – enabling schools to redeploy financial and administrative resource to more important tasks in their schools.”
THE CASHLESS TREND
A recent survey by ParentPay revealed that only six per cent of parents still pay for school meals in cash, which highlights the significant impact that this new payment method has made.
The Income Collection Survey received responses from more E than 800 schools and showed that 48 per cent of parents now pay online or via an alternative method. It also revealed that 46 per cent of parents pay for meals solely online.
The findings also show that a small number of parents have limited access to the internet, which is why the system still offers an alternative cash method. However, cash payments can be made to a PayPoint store, to which 33,000 exist.
Anne Bull, former national chair for Lead Association for Catering and Education (LACA), commented on the survey: “One of the things that really stood out was the number of parents wanting to pay and see meal information online.”
USES AND BENEFITS
Schools have decided to take on the cashless system because they offer a number of benefits to the education sector.
Children bringing cash into school can cause a number of issues; cheques can get lost and even become a trigger for bullying. The online payment system eliminates this problem as the money would be safe and secure in the individuals account, allowing them to purchase their food without any hiccups.
Parents can also have concerns that cash given to their children is not being spent where it is meant. For example, pupils can spend their change in the local corner shop on unhealthy snacks, instead of on a healthy meal at school. Cashless payment systems ensure that money is being spent where it is intended. Another benefit of such systems is that it can remove the stigma surrounding free school meals as it would be impossible to point out which children were entitled.
Removing cash has also been beneficial in terms of finance as schools and caterers are now noticing that this method has reduced administration and helped them save money.
Former academy vice principal, Chris Haggett, introduced a cashless payment system at George Spencer Academy when he saw how much money pupils were spending on their way to school on unhealthy food and drink. By allowing parents to pay for meals online through the sQuid system, pupils were coming to school with less money in their pockets, meaning it was spent more responsibly.
As a result, the school saw an increase in canteen takings and healthier choices for pupils. What’s more, the school cites substantial cost savings and reduced admin time as additional benefits.
George Spencer’s catering manager, Tanya Flinders, commented: “Online payments has really helped us reduce our costs and the amount of time we spend counting cash; we’ve seen our takings increase by over 20 per cent.”
Sam Tse, head of finance at the South Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust, adopted a ParentPay system in 2015 to redirect valuable staff resource away from cash management and income tracking, as well as reduce the risk of money being lost. The system achieved this, helping staff work more efficiently. “The main benefit is time saved in banking and receiving money at reception,” comments Sam Tse, who adds, “the reports within ParentPay have also reduced having to manually track payments. Cash collection services have also been reduced which has saved money across all schools.”
MOVING WITH THE TIMES
Epsom Primary School is another example of a school that is seeing the benefits of going cashless. It is a multi-cultural primary school, which also offers two year-old places and nursery provision.
As an expanding school with many activities that need to be paid for, the school installed a cashless payment system from Tucasi to ease the burden on the school office, as well as show parents it was moving with the times.
Despite reservations that an online system would not suit their catchment area, they have over 50 per cent of parents registered and making regular payments. The school has reduced the administrative burden of managing cash as they can take payments for virtually everything, including extended day provision for their two year‑olds. What’s more, parents can check their child’s meal history, view attended club sessions or check trip dates, which reduces the amount of office queries. They also no longer have a problem with reaching their insurance limits for the amount of cash they are allowed to hold on-site.
A STRATEGY FOR GOING CASHLESS
For those considering a cashless payment system, you should agree a strategy with the senior leadership team and communicate it to all stakeholders. You should also have a plan to deliver the strategy, such as communicating with parents and staff, and also system training. You should also raise awareness and interest by consulting with parents and pupils through parent evenings, emails and newsletters.
Advising other schools on choosing a cashless system, Sam Tse from South Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust said: “Communicate with parents well in advance regarding reasons behind the change and the benefits to themselves and the school.
“Parents have the time to ask questions, and for those concerned with using an online payment system, time to understand the alternatives; for example PayPoint and debit card by telephone.”