Swakeleys School in Hillingdon, Middlesex has over 1000 pupils from year seven to sixth form. As a high achieving Foundation School, with record breaking enrolment figures, Swakeleys is highly valued in the local community. With a specialism in humanities, it focuses on excellent teaching, learning and high standards of behaviour. Swakeleys was one of the first schools to convert to an academy.
The process of selecting and implementing a new accounting software is outlined by the Business Manager, who explains why this was essential, given the difficulties found in reporting within the previous sytem: “Our Finance Team were familiar with the previous FMS system, which suited the nature of reporting and the level of detail required by the local authority. However, as it was not a double entry accounting system, this meant generating manual exports and manipulation in order to retrieve information. There were a number of areas which didn’t suit my requirements.” The Business Manager knew the transition to academy status would require a substantial change to the financial processes and operation. After researching relevant accounting systems, and the first round of reviews, it was narrowed down to two systems.
“A key concern for us was the relationship between the system and the skill set of the existing Finance Team. We knew that we would expand the team at some point, so user friendliness and training for other users was important.”
“The costs were clearly broken down. In comparison, other system providers presented theirs as a package, therefore, it was difficult to pinpoint the set up costs and separate the on-going running costs for maintenance and additional licences. This was not an issue with PS Financials. We were also recommended 10 days of consultancy, which initially seemed extensive, however, the time spent was utilised well and benefitted us in the long term.”
With the transition and training front of mind, the user interface was significantly important to Swakeleys. The Business Manager explains: “My assistant likes icons and I prefer words, so we are able to use the tool bar very differently. This makes the system more inclusive when it adapts to the different styles and preferences of each user. The system has lots of capabilities and the capacity to be used in different ways, which allows duties to be separated easily and is, therefore, good accounting practice.” The security within the system is particularly beneficial as it enables multiple users with different levels of access.
The transition for the finance users, from day one, was seamless. Before going live on the system, Swakeleys used the PS Financials test database to familiarise themselves with the new features. “There was a huge build-up of activity before full conversion and there were a large number of transactions taking place each month. The PS Financials Training Team deserve a medal. They are very competent, friendly and were clear in delivery. They demonstrated a comprehensive understanding about other schools. Users also found it reassuring to have a trainer who was familiar with the previous FMS system and was able to communicate the differences between FMS and PS Financials. The trainer had the expertise and experience to demonstrate the various facilities and reporting options.”
The remote access of the technical help desk means that it is not necessary for someone to provide on-site support at Swakeleys School. The annual maintenance arrangement allows them to call at any time, even to deal with relatively minor questions, and they receive a fast response.
“The Department for Education keeps changing its demands; however, the software updates and upgrades from PS Financials are timely. For any school that is moving to academy status, I would advise them to ensure they have all staff, particularly the Finance Team, working unanimously. The transition requires a team effort.”
“We were one of the first schools to convert to an academy and we did the entire process in less than 11 weeks. The reports for the Governors are very clear, for example, should they want an overview to consider the teaching costs compared to the premises costs they can see this at a glance. Some of the Governors want more detail; the expanding drill down facility can offer this at the click of a button. They can see what has been spent, what has been committed and what remains in real time.”
The system also has the scope and flexibility to accommodate the various requirements of the senior managers and those with specific budget responsibilities, for example, the cumulative amounts for the entire year and the breakdowns for each month are available. “Everything is now online. We no longer need to spend hours with bits of paper or at the fax machine. Documents can be automatically emailed to budget holders and once we have checked that they have the necessary provision in the budget, they are approved and purchase orders are generated. As a result we are more accurate in our budgeting because we know our exact position in every budget and can see potential areas of concern immediately. Reconciliations are easy and we can see, at a glance, where there are variations. It has saved us a lot of time.”
“The audit trail facility enables us to drill down to the finest level of detail. Our auditors were able to complete their work three weeks ahead of schedule. Colleagues in other schools using different systems have had a host of problems and issues. The time spent getting the system ready, tailoring everything to our organisation and tackling the issues at the outset has paid off.”
The integration of PS Financials with other third party systems has been seamless. For example, Swakeleys has integrated its ParentPay system with PS Financials and now operates a fully integrated cashless, catering system.
There are a number of plans for the future. “We now have the ability to create real time reports for our non-finance users, particularly budget holders, which are deployed via the PS Financials web portal. The web portal is intuitive. We are encouraging our users to make better use of the real time reporting rather than providing them with print outs. They can see the benefits of placing their requisitions on the system and are able to view their current status. The procurement process is more streamlined and, therefore, much faster.” There are also plans to integrate the asset register as these are shown in the final accounts and the depreciation calculation is built into the system, which the Business Manager believes will make the process a lot easier.
The Business Manager concludes: “Once you have purchased a system from a supplier, it is only as good as the trainer, the day to day support and help that you receive. With PS Financials, these services have been excellent. The technical support at PS Financials is very clear and useful; all of our questions are answered straightaway.”