Falcon Education Academies Trust was established in 2019 to take on and turn around schools and academies in the north of England with a history of underperformance.
The Trust’s purpose is to secure immediate, sustainable improvement in these schools and academies by tackling their long-term problems with targeted, effective, practical plans. Once the sustainability and viability of an academy is secure, and only if it is in its best interests to do so, the academy will be supported on its journey to becoming an integral part of another successful multi-academy trust. This unique feature of the Trust is designed to enable Falcon to take on and turn around more underperforming schools and academies, to enable them to be integrated into the wider academies’ system.
The Trust currently supports two secondary schools: Thornaby Academy in Stockton-on-Tees, which transferred to the Trust in September 2020; and Royds Academy in Leeds, which converted to be an academy within the Trust in April 2021. Each academy that joins Falcon will have different issues, ranging from academic standards, pupil outcomes or quality of teaching through to school leadership, staff recruitment and retention or financial management. Strong systems and processes are critical in providing rapid support to any chosen school which finds itself in difficult circumstances and in need of sponsorship.
IMP Software was appointed by Falcon Education Academies Trust in spring 2021 to support its budgeting and financial management processes.
“As a Trust our role is to take a school on, turn it around, and put it back into the system,” explained Chief Financial Officer, Jane O’Gara. “To do that you need to be on top of understanding the position across all our schools and manage the whole process to achieve a better outcome. In previous roles I have used budgeting systems where the challenge was getting an overview of schools at MAT level. It was fine at an individual school level, but consolidation was an afterthought, so I wanted to find a system where the focus was on the MAT first. IMP Planner was recommended to me, and I have found that the MAT-level overview is fantastic. It gives us a handle on all our costs and enables us to easily monitor budgets. It is so much easier to use, and make changes, compared to other systems and this is really important in a small finance team.”
IMP Planner was implemented at Falcon in May 2021 and Jane observed an immediate impact. “Setting the budget through IMP Planner was really beneficial, and it has been easy to transport data from IMP into PowerPoint presentations,” she said. “For example, I developed a Business and Finance plan for 2021-24 to present to the Board of Trustees, and I was able to use a screenshot of our budget overview directly from IMP, as well as school statistics and KPIs via Power Bi. For 2021-22, the school finance leads are also being trained up in the system to enable more shared responsibility.”
Jane noted that whilst with previous systems she would have entered actuals to date and estimates for the rest of the year on a month-by-month basis, IMP Planner’s functionality has provided enhanced opportunities for monitoring and forecasting: “IMP allows you to update one-off changes in a different way to recurring changes. As a result, the forecast will be accurate for future years. The ability to compare the latest forecast against budget from high level down to individual staff costs is also powerful. IMP guided me through the process, beginning with a really good set of videos which are helpful for picking up different approaches to using the system, and this was followed with a meeting with their support team.”
She added that outputs from IMP Planner have provided a great overview for Principals too. “The reporting functionality is very easy and user friendly, with a hierarchical level of data, both high level and detailed, available, and we can sit down with school leaders to discuss any potential changes to budgets,” Jane explained. “By October 2021 we were able to ask questions around why costs are as they are. For example, we must ensure our staffing levels are appropriate. IMP’s staffing reports allow us to run through vacancies, discuss how we are filling them, and how decisions will affect the budget. Essentially, is our staffing model fit for purpose to run the school, and are we still in line with budget? Budgeting is now really refined. This has given us an efficient system speed, but also an impact on quality of insight.”
Describing IMP Planner as the “best in market”, Jane said the system would be of benefit to both small and large Trusts. “It is designed with the user in mind, and also clearly with feedback from others who have had the opportunity to advise on what they need,” she revealed. “For us, IMP is quickly becoming a one-stop-shop. Because we are a small Trust, we need to be supported by effective systems to allow us to make rapid change. For income and expenditure, IMP Planner is one of those systems, and this helps us to achieve our objective to be best practice in everything we do.”
Case study developed: December 2021