School catering systems are not always as up-to-date as other aspects of school infrastructure, and they don’t often compare well with high street caterers’ systems either.
But the cumbersome nature of managing catering payments, even when they’re cashless, can have implications for wider school management — particularly if they don’t integrate properly with school financial systems as a whole.
There are potential long-term issues around school catering systems, particularly when it comes to managing school finances. The good news is more schools are opting for cashless payment systems.
The bad news is that many of these systems are not integrated with a wider system of financial management and reporting.
Another bit of bad news is that there are also plenty of schools still reliant on cumbersome till units. And if you thought integration wasn’t working with some cashless systems, these units are very last century indeed.
Cashless payments in schools goes back to 2004, when Croydon Council became one of the first local authorities to adopt a fully cashless system for its schools.
Going cashless should, in theory, reduce administration time connected with cash income, and it can help boost school meal revenue. Cashless catering payments can drive greater uptake of school meals.
Since the introduction of a cashless system, over 80% of secondary schools in the Croydon area are now cashless.
Cashless helps eliminate security risks for schools, with no money being kept on-site. It can cut down on administrative time and costs, and help with more efficient financial management.
But this depends on it being the right kind of cashless system.
Back in 2004, when fewer people had broadband internet access, Croydon Council’s cashless system also allowed for top-ups at local PayPoint shops. Obviously the system, and technology, reflects the time in which it is introduced.
The issue now is that many cashless catering systems are cumbersome and lack any kind of automatic centralisation.
Rather than use modern contactless systems, they rely on stand-alone chip and pin units. These have the added expense of a monthly line rental attached to them.
And because they’re stand-alone, they don’t work automatically with any kind of centralised financial reporting.
Therefore, there can be two major issues to do with connectivity of catering systems:
Connectivity is just one issue that catering systems can present for schools. There are others.
We’ve already touched on the challenges that a lack of connectivity can bring to financial reporting for school catering.
But the more record-keeping relies on manual input, or working off printed copies, the more room for error there is.
If you must manage data entry manually onto spreadsheets from paper receipts, then your system is vulnerable, as well as being labour-intensive.
This sluggish form of data upkeep and entry then impacts on an entire financial management system, if it’s always being kept waiting for returns to come from catering.
Plus, there’s then the added burden of error checking, and the knock-on effects that inefficient, manual data entry has on stock-keeping.
Typically, a school will take out a contract for its cashless catering tills. These are individual bits of specialist hardware, and when they require maintenance, servicing, or replacement, this incurs more costs.
Not only this, but because they are dedicated bits of kit, when one isn’t working, it can cause significant downtime.
Essentially, tills are simply not adaptable. They are designed to perform a function, and if they can’t do so, they leave a gap in how the school’s catering operates.
As part of its guidance for school resource management, the Government highlights the need for schools to make annual checks for contracts of all of its services. Service contracts should be a part of this value for money (VFM) best practices.
Sometimes, in the rush to embrace the future, decision-making becomes too narrowly-focused.
We mentioned how, back in 2004, Croydon Council enabled payment top-ups via PayPoint shops.
Some schools have updated this principle, but in doing so, they’ve hampered the flexibility and functionality of their cashless payment systems. In some cases, what they’ve done is to restrict top-up payments to online payment systems, such as ParentPay.
While supposedly streamlining the system, what this in fact does is cause issues for staff, visitors and students over 16 who cannot then make payments with their own debit cards or mobile devices.
Schools need a genuinely efficient but adaptable cashless catering system, which will integrate seamlessly with their centralised financial management.
Till is a tablet point of sale app, and we’ve designed it to process school meals simply, clearly and efficiently.
Because Till works on tablets, it requires no special hardware, so no additional maintenance costs, call-outs or compatibility issues.
It uses a modern contactless pay unit, which is fully integrated within its system, so there are no line rental issues. Like online payments, the only charges involved are one-off fees and transaction charges.
Till will work with card and contactless payments alongside online payment services, so it doesn’t restrict its cashless functions to pupils, making it that much more flexible.
The system enables accurate reporting, which is customisable, and stock monitoring with automatic deductions from your pre-set stock levels.
It’ll set-up your catering staff time management too.
Basically, Till is your school’s one-stop solution for cashless point of sale catering, fully fit for the 21st century.
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