Hull Collaborative Academy Trust (HCAT) is a family of 14 primary schools and one secondary school in and around Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire. As a leading multi-academy trust (MAT), which is one of the top ten performing Trusts for progress in Reading, Writing and Mathematics in Key Stage 2 for the last three years, HCAT’s mission is “to ensure that every child within the Trust receives outstanding teaching and learning opportunities through collaboration and school improvement”.
Vanessa Nolan was appointed as the Trust’s Chief Financial Officer in June 2017 and has overseen steady growth in the past three years which meant a different approach to MAT budgeting was required. “Two-and-a-half years ago we moved from our local authority system to another budgeting software provider that was recommended to us at the time,” she recalled. “However, given our growth as a Trust during the subsequent 12 months, that system was falling over because we had to input data from each school individually. Things came to a head when I was trying to upload our budget forecast return but the system could not cope with the number of schools we have. There was no centralised MAT function, which is what we needed, so we sought an alternative provider.”
Having found out about IMP Planner through professional social media feeds, Vanessa arranged a briefing with IMP Software co-founder Will Jordan and was suitably impressed to explore things further. “I spoke to one of IMP’s customers and asked whether it was something they would recommend and how quickly it could be implemented,” she explained. “They were full of praise for the product so I took a proposition to Trustees, explained what I would like to do and how it was a cost-effective solution to the challenges we were facing, and they agreed to it. We appointed IMP Software in November 2019, transferred data from our previous
budgeting system over the Christmas period, and having checked the accuracy we were able to use IMP Planner for budget planning within weeks.”
Vanessa reflected that the implementation phase was “incredibly easy and as the customer we did not feel any pain”. “As a growing Trust we are slowly moving towards centralisation – some of our schools have dedicated business managers, and other Hubs have one business manager for two to four schools, but this is a long journey for us,” she said. “Our business managers have commented that IMP Planner is a lot easier to use than our previous system. We have had some remote training focusing on salaries, as the biggest cost, but not group training as yet due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, IMP have been brilliant and answered all our questions via the chat function or over the telephone. They really stepped up to give us everything we need during a really difficult period.”
After just six months working with IMP Software, Vanessa said she could already see that IMP Planner “will help us save time and money”. “Now I have a system which gives me the central oversight I was missing – and the ability for schools to input their own data – so I can easily see information such as GAG funding, Pupil Premium calculations and staff-per-pupil ratios,” she added. “It pulls everything from our finance system and sends information back – the two effectively ‘speak’ to each other – meaning I can now see all the schools across the MAT and the same codes in the same place, which is important for accounts, invoicing and orders. We have more easily accessible data now – I can easily ask why a school is spending x on y. There is obviously a back story behind that, but it allows me to understand everything and ask if there is something else we can do to help.”
Vanessa also emphasised the importance of the two-way relationship with IMP Software that would help HCAT