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Making money count for multi academy trusts

Graham Cooper, Head of Education at Capita SIMS, looks at what's missing from existing financial management systems

Posted by Lucinda Reid | November 28, 2017 | Law, finance, HR

Hands up, who was awake last night making lists and worrying about money? Not because Christmas is coming but because there’s more pressure than ever on budgets and increasingly more demands for financial transparency on the academy sector.

It’s a dark art getting the right financial information from each of your academies when they are also trying to manage their own priorities, systems and pressures.

In a tough economic climate, making the right decisions that support school improvement and justify spending of public money are more critical than ever.   There’s more emphasis on academy trusts to prove that their spending is meeting the goal of securing better outcomes for students.

The truth is, existing financial management systems weren’t created with the MAT in mind. MAT leaders have had to make do, relying on each of their academies to give them the correct information and figures.

That’s a scary position to be in when you are trying to manage, plan and make the most of available funds.  It doesn’t make transparency easy, that’s for sure. 

So, what’s the answer? If MATs are being told to provide a clearer insight into how money is being spent, then a new approach to financial management is needed. The first thing to address is to make sure everyone fully understands the role they play in managing the financial health of the trust.  

At any time, MATs need to be able to look at the numbers and be confident that they are seeing the latest financial status

Heads of departments and teachers are increasingly being given greater responsibility to monitor their own budgets. But to do this effectively they need a financial system that makes sense to them as not everyone can interpret a line of figures on a spreadsheet.

A teacher needs to be able to see what they have left in their own budget for their department or subject. Whereas a head needs an entire financial picture at a glance. 

Access to real-time information like this is essential.  At any time, MATs need to be able to look at the numbers and be confident that they are seeing the latest financial status.  Yesterday’s or last week’s financial picture is useless if you are trying to see if you can commit to a much-needed set of resources.  If an order is raised, the correctly allocated funds should appear immediately on the system. 

If finance directors had access to this level of financial detail, they could easily see how each of their schools are doing at a click of a button.  Academy trusts often have to analyse disjointed paperwork, spreadsheets that could arrive at any point during the month. This causes unnecessary stress for the academies too, resulting in them having to search for or collate information, which takes up huge amounts of someone’s time that could be better spent asking questions of the data.

Detailed financial Information needs to be presented clearly in bar charts, pie charts or even Venn diagrams.  This makes it simple for finance staff and trust leaders to easily see the financial situation across their own academy or an entire trust. 

The only way MATs will achieve total transparency is if key information is collated in to a single system, which is accessible at any time from any location. So, whether it’s 3pm or 3am (during a bout of insomnia) financial controllers in academies and MATs can rest easy knowing the numbers they are seeing are true and accurate.

At Bett 2018, Capita SIMS will be on stand B190 at Bett talking about financial solutions solution to meet the specific needs of MAT and academies. 

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