Learning Academy Partnership South West

The Learning Academy Partnerships (LAPSW) is an ambitious multi-academy trust (MAT) serving eight schools across Torbay and Devon. The MAT is steadily growing, and the team quickly recognised that operating key functions such as finance, HR, payroll and data analysis separately across the schools was not a model that could easily facilitate future growth.

In 2016, LAPSW conducted a review of systems used across the trust. It identified that the ability to make informed decisions as a growing MAT was being hampered by the current systems in place.

The expansion of the MAT and future growth plans prompted the software review. It became apparent that their finance system was not keeping pace with the MAT’s progression. The trust had praise for the original system, which they had used as a standalone academy; however, for group reporting across a MAT, it proved inadequate. Manual processes to maintain a variety of Excel spreadsheets became a necessity to fill gaps but were inevitably time-consuming to manipulate and keep updated. The trust found that a heavy reliance on paper-based processes meant their overhead costs increased, as well as not being an effective use of time. These problems also gave room for errors and a growing fear that more mistakes could be made, impeding their work further – unless the process was streamlined.

They concluded they needed a centralised, integrated, trust-wide system, and after a tender exercise, chose IRIS Financials.

With the primary focus always being on school improvement, the trust was keen to steer towards a paperless office to improve efficiencies and avoid the loss of, or inability to use, data. Additionally, one key focus was reducing staff workload across the trust, ensuring they were not burdened completing back-office processes. Overhauling the core operations systems of one school is no easy task, let alone across an eight-school MAT; working alongside IRIS Financials, the process was completed over 18 months.

The first suite to be installed was IRIS Financials’ Financial Management system, and improvements were apparent straight away. Efficiency gains were achieved immediately as duplicated processes across separate schools were eliminated, whilst simultaneously reducing the chance of errors. Additionally, with reductions in process-lengths, and an increase in consistency, greater control was achieved across the trust, improving data accuracy and reliability.

Next, LAPSW wanted a centralised system to manage HR. With staff costs representing most of the trust’s expenditure, their previous system was not capable of supporting more advanced functionality required to manage a growing HR operation. The business support team were heavily reliant on manual forms, which were being inconsistently completed across departments, and separate software systems meant they couldn’t assess compliance with HR policies without visiting each school in the trust. Keeping track of contracts issued and updates proved challenging, making it problematic for the trust to complete its Workforces Census.

Once installed, IRIS Financials’ HR module, PS People, gave the trust a detailed and reliable management system for all staff data, allowing them to centrally and effectively manage their best resource: their people. With all the HR modules being fully integrated, such as the self-service staff portal and powerful automated workflow tools, the software has given a one-stop-shop for all the MAT’s HR needs.

For many years, LAPSW outsourced payroll to the trust’s local authority, which was considered a safer option but gave them limited visibility and flexibility to operate payroll around their business requirements. Outsourcing meant there were strict processes around timings each month and it was not possible for the trust to hold, report and analyse the data themselves, leaving LAPSW limited to ‘standard’ reporting from their provider.

Now with integrated HR, payroll and finance functions, there is reduced duplication and minimised opportunity for error, with a single point of entry for all staff-related processes. What’s more, with economies of scale, from removing outsourced payroll across eight schools, significant savings have been achieved and over 3 years; the savings from bringing payroll in-house will pay for the entire HR/payroll application suite. Additionally, the self-service staff portal module is currently being implemented with Recruitment, CPD and Automated Occupation Sickness modules able to be introduced in the future at no additional cost.

Following the 18-month implementation of the integrated solution suite, it will ultimately steer the trust towards being a leader in efficiency. The system is easy to use, understand and update, even by non-finance staff, which has led to staff across the trust to be in a better position to perform their tasks. With data also being centrally held, and audit trails of changes tracked, significant time has been saved across many departments. Following this, the ‘centralised’ view was shared with departments outside of the finance team and demonstrated how compliance, policies and government documents can be stored on one platform, with central access, ensuring documents are up to date and the most recent versions used.

IRIS Financials and LAPSW continue to work closely together to ensure the software meets the demands of the growing trust. With requirements evolving, this relationship was a key factor in the success of the project. LAPSW continues to use, develop and explore additional modules in the system with regular contact and monitoring from the IRIS Financials team. The trust is confident that they are well-placed to continue to drive their financial health and efficiency, providing them with strong foundations across all operational systems for their ever-growing trust.

To learn more about integrated systems for the education sector, get in touch.