Mercian Educational Trust
How integrated online payments transformed nursery and wraparound care
Mercian Educational Trust is raising standards in primary schools. Formed in 2015, its first four-school cluster is in Worcestershire, with a second likely soon. Each cluster performs with one executive head, full support from central leadership, and specialist welfare services.
When Trevor Jones joined the trust as Business Manager in 2013, his priority was to assess the finance systems. We asked Trevor to explain why he opted for Dimensions for Academies in 2016, integrating the new self-generated income module three years later.
Life before Hoge 100
"I went around looking at all the different software options we had," said Trevor. "It became clear the finance package they all integrated into was less than adequate for the needs of a multi-academy trust. It was more of a purchase and ordering system. Once you got to the complexity of multi-schools, it just didn't cut it. And it didn't have the kind of reporting we needed at the front-end. We wanted to see exactly where we were in real time."
The outcome was to choose Dimensions for Academies. It was three years later, however, when Trevor decided to overhaul how the trust managed payments for nursery fees and wraparound care.
Whilst the County Council funded some of the nursery provision for parents, extra hours were often billed to working parents. Invoices were emailed and the existing system had many anomalies. It was an inexpensive piece of software, but it wasn't providing the functionality Trevor knew his trust needed.
He explained: "What we wanted was every school operating on a single platform with a common set of billing criteria. In our schools, discounts were given to differing groups of employees. And the percentages were not always the same.
We were also handling the cash manually, recording income on a cash receipting basis. What we wanted was the proper accounting process of recording the income and the debt and having it on the same set of books."
Integrated not interfaced
Trevor looked at Hoge 100's self-generated income integration, plus many other options. His decision came down to the benefits of true integration.Trevor explained:
"As soon as you've got two systems, you're having to compare one against the other. And that leaves you in a reconciliation process.
When it's truly integrated, they're just one and the same. You just give a very light touch to make sure they're ok.
Alternative systems couldn't be integrated. They'd be interfaced at a summary level. What I like about Hoge is the fact that it is integrated. We can drill down and get more information. And if we do corrections, they go all the way through the finance system. We don't have to do it on two systems."
Trevor's mind was made up and the trust chose Hoge 100's self-generated income integration to manage its nurseries, wraparound care and trips.
Getting staff and parents on board
Nobody likes change. So, it was great to hear that Mercian Educational Trust's move to Hoge 100's system went well.
"We didn't have to create the children's names and year groups, or their parent's details. That was all taken from ScholarPack. It worked really well.
Mark and Eve from Hoge spent some time with us as we were one of their first customers to take up the self-generated integration. They took many aspects of the way we work into consideration.
Parents have taken to it really well, though we're still getting a bit of inertia. The game-changer was adding the consent button for school trips. At first, we didn't introduce trips as we thought it was a step too far. But I'd say to anyone else, if you want to achieve high subscriptions, think about adding trips first. It's a good way of getting people onto the system. They go into the system to press the consent button and whilst in there, see all their invoices online. And they think: why don't I pay this whilst I'm in here.
One school has only just started using the system and we've got a conversion rate of about 60%. We're looking to improve on that too," said Trevor.
Saving time, removing errors, informing staff
A new finance system must deliver benefits. It must provide a return on investment in terms of time saved and greater productivity.
Trevor explained how Hoge 100's self-generated income integration made a difference to his trust: "If the nursery staff and secretaries maintain the diary management for wraparound and nursery, the billing system sorts out what needs to be invoiced. And because of that, the nursery and wraparound workers have a list of children to expect; like a register.
By putting payment online, parents are doing all our keystrokes for us. The cash is coming into our bank accounts via WorldPay automatically. We don't have to do anything other than shepherd it through the control accounts and make sure everything balances. We don't have to go running to the bank on a regular basis and we don't have to enter transactions onto the system because the parents are doing that. The emphasis is on getting the billing correct. Then the whole system takes care of itself."
Considering Dimensions for Academies, Trevor has seen huge benefits for the trust.
By installing Dimensions for Academies, I was really implementing a professional finance package onto essentially non-finance staff. Initially, they were out of their comfort zone. But the Hoge support team carried them through that process with great skill and patience. They can see the benefits of it now.
The budget holders can tap into Finance Portal and look to see where they are in terms of their budget. They can help themselves to a lot of information they would otherwise have asked me or another business manager for. I can say: help yourself, just login and find the information you need. It saves me a lot of time and even the auditors are secretly impressed with the functionality of it all, said Trevor.
"I didn't know how good they would be."
Whilst Trevor explained that choosing Hoge 100 was an "act of blind faith" at the start, he's glad he made the decision.
"They show great patience and know their customer very well. They understand the educational industry and its peculiarities. Hoge know they're not dealing with qualified accountants all the time and they know how to talk people through the processes. It was an act of blind faith on my part, because I didn't know how good they would be. I think Hoge have got one of the most unique and complete applications for the educational system. And with the technical support they're able to give, it's second to none. It really is very good."
"If any school looking to change its financial software doesn't look at Hoge, it's missing a trick because it's one of the most integrated packages addressing all the educational industry issues. I'm a great believer in having one fully integrated system, wherever possible."