The trend of going cashless

Going cashless can help schools save money by streamlining their payment processes, but it has also become an way of strengthening parental communications and engagement in their children’s life at school. BESA’s Cleo Fatoorehchi explores further

Schools have been facing a severe funding crisis over the past few years. The latest research commissioned by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) found that 41 per cent of schools – across the primary and secondary sectors – are indicating contraction in their resource budgets over the coming year.

In this context of budget uncertainty, going cashless can help schools save money by streamlining their payment processes – whether it is to pay for school meals, school trips or any other transaction between the school and parents.

Anthony Bennett, head of sales at Eduspot, told BESA: “Having an online payment system can result in time and money being saved in school and processes becoming more efficient.” Eduspot, a BESA member, provides schools with a cashless catering solution called SchoolMoney, among other products.

SchoolMoney’s price plan allows for unlimited transactions without any transaction or service fees, which “allows schools to budget for the year and be as flexible as they wish when parents pay online without the worry of any additional fees for the school or parent,” Bennett said.

At Manley Village School, SchoolMoney has “reduced the time spent counting money and freed my time for other work,” the Business School Manager Gillian Harrison said.

Lorraine from Brooke Voluntary Controlled Church of England Primary School also recognised that the cashless system led to more efficiency in the school: “The office staff can now do their allocated hours without claiming overtime,” she said. “We have cut down on wasted hours on collecting money, counting it and banking it, and parents have become more efficient and reliable at booking meals in advance which means less wastage for our onsite kitchen.”

Going cashless to avoid the challenges of cash transactions

Schools without an online payment system have to manually record payments made for trips and dinners, followed by manually counting cash which also needs to be banked, often by a member of the admin team.

Rhea Jarvis, business development manager at Eduspot, told BESA that this system was both extremely time-consuming – for both the parents and admin staff in school – and not very secure. “Manually tracked information does not allow for accurate reporting on money received and can also be difficult to track student grants or pupil premium reductions for things such as trips,” Jarvis said. “Manual systems paper-based or electronic spreadsheets allow for many areas of human error and are without a complete audit trail.”

Instead, an online payment system will record any transactions made by parents and will clearly show in school any payments made, credits accrued or debts that need to be paid. “Online payments result in a more secure streamlined approach to money transactions,” Jarvis commented. Besides being a more secure way of receiving payments, an online payment system also has the added benefit of no cash in school, which is a security risk alone.

Moreover, online payment solutions offer parents the chance to pay cash if needed, through the PayPoint facility. There are 29,000 PayPoint outlets in the UK, located in supermarkets, newsagents or Post Offices, so it is a convenient alternative for families with no online banking.

Parental engagement

Once a payment is received online or a cash payment in school, the SchoolMoney system automatically sends a receipt of payment directly to the parent. This creates a much more secure way of managing money transactions in school, and the parents and school have a log of everything paid or not paid.

Jarvis explained: “SchoolMoney has a parental engagement facility built in which allows text and emails to be generated at the click of a button to request payment from parents and also remind them of any overdue payments.”
She added: “This saves a lot of man-hours and grief for the schools and offers reports to show all messages are received by parents.

Chasing payments can often become a negative situation if having to be done face to face. SchoolMoney eradicates this and allows the relevant information to be sent to a parent direct. It creates a secure environment which allows parents to pay from the comfort of their own home and allows the school to clearly reconcile all payments in school with a complete audit trail.”

Indeed, online payment solutions are not only appreciated by schools. Parents, too, are enthusiastic about them and often request that a card facility be set up at their children’s schools, if it’s not already.

Bennet told BESA that in schools that do not have a card facility, the parents often leave without being able to make a payment. “At SchoolMoney, we are finding that there is a push from parents to encourage schools to offer an online facility as this is very convenient for them,” he said.

For example, with SchoolMoney’s parental consent feature, the school requests parents’ consent alongside payments. This means parents have less forms to sign and clearly know what their children are about to do at school, while the school can produce a list of pupils complete with emergency contact information and medical information to take on the school trip.

Parents also prefer online payments because it reduces risk. Indeed, the chances that children will buy sweets and junk food on the way to and from school, which is a strong concern when children have lunch money in their pocket every day, are far less.

Likewise, with online payments children do not need to carry cash into school on public transport, so paying for school items becomes safer for them.

Lastly, online payment systems often give details about the children’s lunch contents, so that parents can be involved in the child’s life at school. On the online forum for parents Mumsnet, many parents express the desire to be able to check whether their children have had a healthy school meal, and that is often possible when the schools use an automated fingerprint or card system that needs to be topped up by the parents.

So, as Jarvis said, “there is absolutely a trend towards schools becoming cashless.” And we can understand why.

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