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hoc payments for items such as field trips provides distraction for teaching staff with limitless potential for errors, as Douglas Robertson, the finance manager at West Lothian College, noted. “When you are handling a

lot of cash, it can be easy to take a £10 note and count it as £20, for example,” said Robertson. “Then you spend a lot of time investigating exactly where the error has occurred.” While many schools and colleges

have the ability to process card payments over the counter, these payments are not necessarily linked to the student record system or finance system. Liana Bartholomew, finance team

leader at Dundee College, recalled: “We used a system provided by the bank but the transaction wasn’t recorded in our financial software. We had to record everything manually, which could be very time consuming. We used to write a receipt when we received a payment and then we would have to reconcile everything.” In addition, there are

considerable direct costs for rented Chip and PIN terminals. The beter way is a payments system that integrates with the management information and student records databases and also allows payments to be made online. Douglas Robertson said having

card payments automatically processed directly through West Lothian’s MIS has been highly beneficial. “It has reduced receipting

errors and encouraged payment by card; as a result we have managed to reduce the amount of cash we send to the bank and cut our banking costs. In the past, if we chased a student and they said they had given money to a

member of staff it was almost impossible to prove.”

Online savings Enabling online payments reduces cost even further, with a 2012 SOCITM report estimating cost per transaction over the web at just 1/20th of the cost of taking payment over the telephone and around 1/40th the cost of face-to-face. Capita SIM says overhauling

payment systems for integration and online access can transform enrolment, ad-hoc payments, debt collection and compliance with card security regulations. It provides a series of

management information solutions with its SIMS (School Information Management System) suite of software packages now used by more than 22,000 schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. “SIMS has unique depth and

breadth that allows schools to manage student and staff information across all areas of school life including registration, finance and payroll, timetabling, progress tracking and assessment, and whole-school communication,” said Capita’s Tiffany Stromsoe. SIMS features an integrated

double-entry accounting system that provides a comprehensive picture of the school’s finances and is accredited with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

Academy advantage One of the most popular products is the SIMS Financial Management System (FMS), adapted to the needs of school academy and college bursars. Ryvers School in Slough chose

SIMS FMS to power its financial and management system when the school made that tricky transition to academy status. Department for Education

guidance says schools making the transition need to decide early whether their existing financial systems and staffing arrangements can cope with the more stringent financial management demands involved. “As well as the day-to-day

processing of income and expenditure, they will have to produce management accounts, cash flow reconciliations and balance sheets,” the DfE cautions. Valerie Haffey, Ryvers’ business

manager, explained: “As an academy, we have to submit our financial reports at a different time of year to state schools. “There are also a number of new

reports that we have to complete, such as for the Education Funding Agency. So we needed to be on top of our finances at all times.” Ryvers trialled two systems

before selecting SIMS FMS, with the system’s ICEAW accreditation and the ability to report quickly and accurately to governors and other stakeholders providing further plus points.

Exchequer Microsoft’s Exchequer suite has also achieved impressive uptake in education, particularly in primary, secondary and further education sectors, promising to revolutionise the way schools and colleges handle their accounts and budgeting. Exchequer provides a suite of

features that help establishments track costs and analyse results by reporting on the individual success of each department, even across multiple sites, helping head of departments manage set budgets, track and control commited costs within a general ledger and provide over-budget checks at order entry stage. Exchequer also supports remote

invoice authorisation, enabling departmental heads to approve and authorise transactions via email, and provides tailored reports for Board, Trustees or Education Authorities. The package is also useful

for subsidiary educational organisations, like student unions. University of Hull Students’ Union, recently named ‘Students’ Union of the Year,’ uses Exchequer to manage its activities and claims to have reduced annual costs by £30,000 as a direct result of the quality of management information available, with consequent impact on departmental performance and budgeting.” ET

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