The Faringdon Academy of Schools was established on 1st April 2012. The Academy initially comprised an infant school, a junior school and also a college (Faringdon Community College). In October 2011 John Banbrook, Business Manager, was appointed to lead the transition to multi-academy status and take advantage of the economies of scale from becoming a federation.
Having established the 3 school MAT in April 2012, the Trust agreed to convert a further 5 local primary schools in November 2013. With PS Financials as established market leaders, and the experience of the Academy Finance Officer and the Business Manager, it was a very simple process to add the 5 new schools to the PS Financials software. The conversion process was straightforward and training the new schools was even easier, as the existing knowledge of the Academy’s Finance Officers complimented the PS Financials trainer. Overall, the experience of the Academy expansion was definitely made easier as a result of PS Financials.
All three organisations were using the County Council’s SAP accounting system. Despite providing excellent support they felt the system was “clunky.” In order to achieve the benefits of conversion, where some central costs and functions were shared, the accounting system was reviewed to ensure that the most efficient solution was adopted. There was obviously a need to allow each school to manage its own finances but with consolidation facilities and the desire to use a single bank account.
A working group – comprising of the Business Manager, three Finance Officers and a member of the newly appointed auditors – was formed to ensure that all needs were identified and to give everyone the opportunity to be part of any change.
“It’s fair to say that the prospect of changing the accounting system induced a fair bit of angst – especially the prospect of additional work. It was a particular concern for the Finance Officers of the two smaller schools, who wear a variety of hats beyond finance, and were previously used to picking up the phone with any queries on the finance system. A good support package became a primary requirement,” says John Banbrook.
“There was obviously a need to allow each school to manage its own finances but with consolidation facilities and the desire to use a single bank account.” Business Manager, Faringdon Academy of Schools
John explained the selection process: “We spoke to six suppliers about five different systems – the county council’s ‘SAP academy system’, ‘Corero’, two versions of ‘Academy Sage’, ‘FMS’ and ‘PS Financials’. We ran a really tough competition, with each supplier presenting to the working group.”
“I don’t have a management accounting background so what really interested me was the PS Financials finance pack. I could delve into the management accounting information for the college, junior and infant school and draw all three together. That was the primary attraction. We also wanted the system to be as user friendly as possible and with a high level of support to satisfy the three Finance Officers.”
On the strength of the presentations and substantial research, Faringdon Academy of Schools chose PS Financials, which stood “head and shoulders” above the rest.
“PS Financials had been my preference and the decision was unanimous. I checked with our auditors who said that it was robust, met all their needs and they too thought it was the best choice for us. I prepared a decision brief with a cost-benefit analysis for the Academy Steering Group, who supported it.”
John points out that whilst the first year set up costs for PS Financials initially appeared high, on a three year analysis the costs became comparable and after five years it became cheaper in some cases.
Once the decision was made to convert to academy status in October, there was little time for the transition, which was planned for April 2012. John comments, “We made the decision to proceed relatively late, with regards to reviewing our accounting system.
I would recommend that any other school starts the competitive process pretty early to have enough time to make the right decision and implement the system effectively.”
Faringdon Academy of Schools decided on PS Financials in February and set a target date to go live once the conversion to academy status occurred on 1st April. Work began immediately after an initial consultation with PS Financials. The system was installed over the Easter holidays and immediately on return a two day training session was held.
“It all ran a lot smoother than we expected. The Finance Officers had introduced a new accounting system before and described the process as ‘fairly hellish’.”
“The trainer and the training were brilliant. I would recommend to academies that they run the training across a third day so that there is time to assimilate all the information. The training was very hands on. We all had laptops and went through everything from entering a purchase order to developing specific management reports.”
There have been some minor teething problems, but John admits that 90% of the issues were not system faults but operator errors whilst they got to grips with using the system. “The support was superb. It was incredibly reassuring and all three Finance Officers gave excellent feedback.”
“I’m so happy with the software. I help out at other schools and sit with them while they’re learning how to use it, it is very easy to understand.” Business Manager, Faringdon Academy of Schools
“We quickly became familiar with the use of the system and the different requirements at different levels of analysis for finance officers, the business manager, school senior management teams, local governing boards and the academy board.”
“After six months of use, we have more data in the system. This means there is more we can do in terms of interrogation, analyses of trends and we can extract information in a number of different ways. The management accounting package is verygood; it just makes everything so quick. I can sit at my desk and flick between the three schools to see how they are doing against budget or the overall picture. It’s really simple and has given us real peace of mind.”
“The Finance Officers were all surprised at how straightforward the transition has been and have found the system a lot easier to interrogate than before. When they handle calls they can quickly bring up details of suppliers and see whether invoices have been logged and paid, which saves them time.”
John explains that they have adopted a phased approach to using the system. They intend to use the document scanning facilities, moving towards a paperless approach, so invoices can be authorised electronically. The on-line parent payment system is another area that is still to be incorporated.
John concludes: “The system has proved itself to have the capacity and safeguards we need. I would certainly recommend PS Financials to any school that is about to convert to academy status. I would endorse PS Financials, no question of that.”
“I would endorse PS Financials, no question of that. Establishing a coherent approach to finance is one of the key advantages of becoming a MAT- PS Financials is unquestionably a key enabler in this respect.” Business Manager, Faringdon Academy of Schools