How efficient financial management can have an impact in the classroom

11th February 2020

Marc Nolan, Managing Director, Education Resource, explains how new cloud-enabled finance systems can drive efficiencies, savings and success

1.     Reducing the amount of time teachers spend on administration

I’d be surprised to hear of any teacher who entered the profession to spend more time with invoices, purchase orders and spreadsheets. Any opportunity to help teachers focus on their pupils is one not to miss.

Yet an Ofsted survey of more than 4,300 teachers last year revealed that they are, on average, spending just 43% of their working week teaching in the classroom. The survey also noted that teachers are, on average, working more than 50 hours a week. In last October’s Teacher Workload Survey for the Department for Education (DfE), teachers were asked what non-teaching activities they spent time doing. General administration was the second most given answer, with 99% of primary and secondary teachers listing paperwork as a major time-stealer. In fact, primary school teachers spend just over four hours a week on admin, with secondary teachers spending almost five. Transferring the administrative burden away from teachers is an institutional priority.

Planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time should be used to help teachers improve what they do best – gaining subject knowledge, marking and monitoring students’ work, and preparing learning materials. An effective financial management system can streamline the purchase-to-payment cycle, saving teachers time when ordering resources to support their lessons. These systems, which use ‘punchout’ technology, mean teachers can select their supplies from different vendors’ websites and click ‘buy’ without ever having to worry about how to log and handle the purchase. After all, these people chose to become teachers – not accountants.

2.     Saving money

There’s often a more efficient way of doing many day-to-day finance activities. From simply avoiding entering the same information multiple times to reducing the paper trail, time can be saved in the school office. For multi-academy trusts (MATs), there are huge cost and time savings to be made from automatically processing invoices. A typical school processes around 1,000 invoices a year, while a MAT could be producing more than four or five times that figure. According to government statistics, a paper-based public sector invoice can cost an estimated £14 to process – rationalising this process with digital tools is common-sense in the 21st century.

Automated purchase invoice processing allows approved suppliers to use an invoicing format that inputs data directly into a school’s finance system, thus eliminating the need to manually input, and reducing the cost of processing an invoice down to around £5. The resulting savings can then be diverted to supporting pupils.

3.     Head in the clouds

The benefits of cloud technology are far wider ranging than many teachers realise. Compiling mandatory Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) reports can be a daunting task – it can take days to compile the accounts and budget forecasts, and legacy software may no longer support the latest format for these submissions. Cloud software enables changes and updates to be added remotely to these reports, simplifying the process and removing the risk of mistakes In a large MAT, combining reports from finance and business managers in individual schools can be a mammoth task – cloud technology makes this much easier, freeing up valuable time and resources at academy level, and reducing the workload at MAT level.

These are just some of the ways in which effective financial management can have an impact in the classroom. When you dig deeper into the advantages of a modern, cloud-based finance system, there are many areas where the savings (both financial and time) outweigh the initial investment. I’ve discussed procurement and reporting, but technology can also support effective budget planning and help senior leaders make decisions based on solid data.

At the heart of each school is its pupils. Having a positive, meaningful impact on their experience, wellbeing, educational outcomes and readiness for society is one of the primary reasons people choose to work in a school environment – at all levels, not just in the classroom. Efficient financial management can have a powerful impact on these outcomes. By allowing senior leadership teams to ensure that time, resources, budget and staff are all optimised in the finance office, the savings can be applied to achieving this common goal for everyone.