Schools run smoothly when they integrate their operations, but there is a risk that they are neglecting their financial administration when it comes to effective integration.
Think of the school timetable. The timetable is central to how a school works on a day-to-day basis. And for the timetable to work, one hand has to know what the other hand is doing.
There are now various dedicated software systems and support options for curriculum management, helping schools coordinate their teaching.
However, this wide-reaching coordination in schools can stop short of administration, and finance administration in particular.
With ever-increasing strains on school budgets, what should schools do to integrate their financial administration more effectively?
Is School Finance Stuck in the Dark Ages?
In its research report guide for improving school financial outcomes, the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL, formerly NASBM) talks about getting the basics right.
This advice includes using BACS instead of cheques to pay suppliers; not duplicating data in different electronic and paper versions; and not allowing invoices to become overdue.
While it does advise investigating paper-free solutions, it suggests a spreadsheet solution rather than investing in dedicated software.
In its own research into how schools are responding to financial pressure, Ofsted reports that:
Since 2015, schools have been faced with additional cost pressures and uncertainty over their finances.
It looks at how schools are responding and highlights the link between finances and educational outcomes.
But the remit of its research doesn’t extend to how schools administer their finances, and whether this would have an impact on their overall financial management.
Although schools may feel bound to look at making cuts for efficiencies, they could be overlooking alternative means of tightening up their operations, which would have a less harmful impact.
One aspect of efficiency is automation and the adoption of digital platforms to support financial management and administration. There is now a growing number of tech products on offer for schools.
Are Tech Solutions for Schools Too Piecemeal?
There are solutions out there for schools wishing to streamline their financial administration and improve their cashless capability.
The issue isn’t necessarily with any one of these financial management platforms, but rather how, or if, they relate to one another in a school admin setting.
This requires a clear, transparent relationship between a specific platform, its various users, and how this fits in with the bigger picture of the school’s administration as a whole.
If, for example, the school’s catering is using ParentPay to enable parents to pay for school meals, how is the system reconciling these payments with other systems?
The problem with many commercially-driven finance platforms is precisely that they don’t talk to each other. They’re marketed exclusively as self-contained solutions.
And these various platforms are not infallible. There have been documented issues where software changes or problems have caused very real issues.
No technological solution can be absolutely foolproof in the face of unexpected events, but any school with a properly integrated form of financial administration is going to be better equipped to deal with any issues that come up.
In considering an integrated administration solution, it makes sense to look carefully at what the role of finance is in schools today.
What is the Role of Finance in Schools?
Schools are not simply schools, they are also enterprises in their own right. They have income streams to manage, and books to balance.
This changing profile has implications for schools’ financial management.
It can no longer simply be a traditional back-office function, but now must involve key decision-making in what is a type of business partnership role.
Financial management and administration for schools includes:
· Long-term financial planning
· Allocating resources
· Planning and controlling budgets
· Trend analysis.
These functions sit alongside the core facets of accounting and compliance. What is pivotal to these functions operating effectively is that they all support one another, with full clarity. But also, that they all have access to valuable data.
Data is very much the key to management accounting that supports the delivery of a school’s educational objectives.
Therefore, financial administration needs a common source of accessible data, which reconciles all financial activities and provides a clear picture, which in turn helps with financial analysis and planning.
What is the Impact of Resource Allocation?
How to spend and allocate income will largely determine a school’s development and will impact on its performance.
Effective budgeting requires more than a last-year’s-budget-plus approach. As we’ve already pointed out, the modern school is an educational enterprise. It needs, and deserves a more dynamic approach to its financial management.
With the right kind of platform supporting its finances, a school should be able to re-think its priorities and reallocate resources to optimise educational outcomes.
This requires that financial plans and educational development plans harmonise, and the more visible the connections, the more straightforward strategic financial planning can be.
Beyond Bookkeeping and Into Integration
Tali is one of a suite of specialist financial products that provides multiple functions to support financial administration in schools.
These functions include complete banking processes, with easy bulk data entry.
Tali also provides both audit-ready and custom reports, and there is a catering add-on, to further integrate school finances.
A major advantage of Tali is that it will integrate with other systems, transferring data efficiently, synchronising all its data. This removes the need for multiple entries, and reduces the likelihood of error or duplication.
Tali is a specialist tool in its own right, but it also offers the capability for schools to refine their management processes, consolidating their existing systems.
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