Mike Haslin, Chief Executive Officer at TUCO, The University Caterers Organisation, discusses how to achieve value for money in these unpredictable times
Why did your Multi-academy trust go cashless?
Increasingly, schools across the UK are joining Multi-academy trusts (MATs) to share the benefits of working closely together towards a collective goal. It is not un-common for MATs to share processes and use the same systems to gain efficiencies.
Hugh Sexey CofE, South Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust and Avocet Trust have already made the decision to remove cash from schools, instead collecting payments online for school meals, trips, clubs and much more.
Zoe Stewart, of the Avocet Trust, explains why they made the move to online payments: “Security was one of the main factors for us, holding cash on the premises and banking meant our processes were not as secure as we would have liked them to be. This, along with the opportunity to improve the overall effectiveness of administration time amongst staff helped our decision. Parents are also happier with this, a quick efficient and transparent payment option.”
School Business Manager at Hugh Sexey CofE Middle school, Jenny Farrell outlines their reason for going cashless: “With 590 pupils on roll, our aim was to reduce the amount of cash received in school, along with the time spent on associated tasks and processes such as counting cash, issuing receipts and reconciling.”
Buying as a group can also lead to reduced Total Cost of Ownership of a cashless system and the benefits of shared central reporting features is saving valuable administration time across schools.
How did you select the right solution and partner?
Sam Tse, Head of Finance at the South Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust had a list of key requirements a solution should meet before coming to a decision; including competitive pricing, flexibility and ease of use for both the school and parents. After researching numerous systems, ParentPay met different requirements at each school within the Trust. For example, one primary school was keen to roll out online menu choices to ensure parents make their selection in advance, whereas others opted to introduce ParentPay first then introduce this later.
When choosing a provider, it is important to explore options says Zoe: “We compared 3 providers and found ParentPay excelled on the options available to our parents. Their system was the only one to offer us a full tablet and mobile responsive option meaning we could deploy the solution quickly across different schools with differing needs. We needed to be totally inclusive and accept cash payments via PayPoint for families unable to access online banking. We had to ensure that all our parents were able to pay in the way they needed and for whatever they wanted to.“
Jenny at Hugh Sexey reiterated this: “Not only did we want to collect payments online for our trips and activities, but we planned to go cashless in the canteen, so the system needed to be flexible enough to be utilised for school dinner payments when we were ready.”
What benefits have been realised across the Trusts?
Zoe outlined how going cashless has helped the Avocet Trust: “The processing of payments via ParentPay and direct settlement to our bank account, combined with the central reconciliation reports available in the system, has made the whole process much more efficient for us.”
Sam from South Dartmoor says since ParentPay was implemented in 2015, the system has already helped staff to work more efficiently. The Trust has saved administrative time and valuable staff time: “The main benefit is time saved in preparing the banking and receiving money at reception. Sam also commented on another key factor - being able to track and report accurately: “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.”
What advice can you offer to other schools?
Sam’s advice to other schools that are considering going cashless is to engage openly with parents so the benefits of collecting payments online are realised. Sam added: Communicate with parents well in advance regarding reasons behind the change and the benefits to themselves and the school.
Jenny added: “Presently, take up of the system at Hugh Sexey is in the region of 95%, so the cash volume has dropped significantly. Our long-term goal is that all three tier schools in our MAT will use ParentPay, meaning parents will only have to activate one account.”
Zoe at Avocet added: “We gave parents a full-terms notice, guided them through the process with detailed instructions in our weekly newsletters, and of course were always happy to offer our assistance via the school office.”