Facing a 20% increase in student numbers at the same time as the introduction of the universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) scheme, St Michael’s CE (VC) Primary School in Bournemouth chose to implement WisePay’s range of online payment and booking solutions to deal with the consequent increase in transactions and meal orders.
St Michael’s has a 524-pupil roll which will be increasing to 630 in September 2017 when it completes its transition from two-form to three-form entry. Due to the UIFSM scheme and pupil premium funding, all 270 key stage one students now receive free school meals, meaning that school meal orders have recently risen from 170 to 330 meals per day.
The school’s governing body was keen to bring cash payments to an end in line with our school expanding from two to three-form entry. This coincided with a number of parents enquiring about an alternative method of payment to cash and cheques. The decision was forced when the UIFSM scheme was announced and we knew that we were going to have an increase in the number of meals being ordered (which was done manually in the past). Underlying all this was a keenness on my part, as the school business manager, to instigate a better and more accountable income management system in the school.
My main requirements when selecting the new system were time-saving and introducing a more efficient payment solution, which meant I could be more accountable for the income and expenditure across the year.
The solutions we have introduced include packages for:
• pre-ordering for meals
• trip management and payment
• general payments.
The pre-ordering for meals package was selected to deal with the increased number of meals we were anticipating per day and to meet the need for a more convenient payment method for parents – the existing system involved them queuing up outside on Monday mornings.
Trips and other payments were becoming difficult to manage. We pride ourselves on running a large number of trips for our children, but it was important to show the associated income so each could be budgeted accordingly.
I deliberately phased in the modules over a five-month period to give parents time to get used to it. We started with trips, then music payments and finally we rolled out the meal payments to coincide with the introduction of UIFSM.
The set-up process was very easy to manage thanks to the system’s integration with our management information system (MIS). The software pulls student data from the MIS, so I don’t have to enter all the data afresh. I can then use the same system to determine audience groups for different trip/activity/meal options, specifying, for example, that only key stage two children are eligible for a certain sports club.
Online payments have modernised the school and parents can now make payments from the comfort of their own home, rather than wasting time queuing in the morning when they may need to get to work. This has encouraged parents to pay more promptly and also demonstrated our commitment to keeping up with current trends across Bournemouth schools.
Additionally, I can now interrogate payments in fine detail to get a real-time picture of what the income is, rather than wait for cheques to clear or a bank run to be made, which took my admin staff away from their primary functions. Being able to print off a real-time list of transactions has all but eradicated any discrepancies over whether payments have been made by parents or not.
The administration time in meal ordering has been reduced dramatically now that parents are responsible for making sure they are ordering the correct meals for their children. Combined with a reduced amount of time to reconcile cash and cheques and less need to complete banking runs, switching to WisePay has saved approximately 15 hours a week for my administration staff, which equals 24 days a year. The time taken to process the school meal payments and prepare the order for the catering company has reduced from two days to 15 minutes, because all the meal selections and financial information is already populated online.
The time freed up has been repurposed towards other pressing office tasks and dealing with requests from parents, leading to improved interaction between parents and the school.
The administration time for processing trip payments has also been drastically reduced. Previously, it would take an hour from the payment being handed in to it being completely processed – an hour which is now freed up for other tasks. We run approximately 108 trips per year, which means that per year we are saving three weeks of staff time.
The payment solutions have proved very reliable and are flexible enough to meet fluctuating demands throughout the school year. We now have a system which is more efficient for staff and more convenient for parents.
Rob Munro is school business manager at St Michael’s CE (VC) Primary School.