A key part of the school business manager’s role is to improve efficiencies, but this can sometimes, be more challenging than you might think. Handling cash from parents and pupils is one such area, with the result that many schools have moved away from accepting cash and cheque payments completely.
Imagine working in the school office and taking payments for every child’s lunch, attendance at breakfast club, after-school club fees and each school trip they participate in. The time involved in receiving said money, counting, issuing receipts, recording transactions and subsequent banking could be more wisely spent on other tasks. The difficulty, however, may be encouraging parents that online payments are a much simpler way of doing things.
As a school, the first thing to think about is what kind of system you’re looking for and who will manage it. There are now a number of companies out there that provide ‘cashless payments’ software, and your priority should be to ensure that the payments system can speak to your MIS. If it doesn’t, you’ll be saving less time than you would by trying to allocate payments manually.
The next thing to consider is what type of packages the provider offers. Most will provide an online payments facility, along with a host of other options, such as text messaging, menu planners, club bookings and school trip payments.
Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to those systems that will provide what you want and are compatible with your MIS, you’ll want to know how easy the system is for parents to use and for the school to maintain. In the current technological climate you’ll encounter many parents wanting to make payments via a mobile app, so be sure to include that option on your wishlist. In terms of maintenance, you should try to secure a demo or speak to others that have used the relevant system to gauge the time commitment involved in its initial set up and subsequent upkeep. If it looks onerous, it probably will be.
Cash, cheque or neither?
Having chosen your platform and organised the set up, you’ll be ready to go. Now you need to decide if you’re going to give parents a choice of online payments or cash/cheque, or whether you’ll be stopping cash and cheque payments altogether. The prospect of no more cash in school is a very attractive one, but think carefully before banishing it as a payment method completely.
There will be some parents who simply won’t want to move away from physical payments for a number of reasons, and your school needs to decide whether disenfranchising this group of parents would be counterproductive. If a parent is adamantly opposed to using online payments, will the school subsequently find that parent’s dinner money to be continuously in arrears? If you can offer a combination of acceptable payment methods, you’ll have a solution that suits most parents.
Once your new system is in place, make sure you use any marketing materials that the provider may be able to offer. It’s also worth allocating some time to help parents get acquainted with your payments portal – since online payments are ultimately the way forward, and an investment that your school is sure to value over time.
Caroline Collins is head of school business strategy and resources at Miles Coverdale Primary School