St Christopher’s Multi-Academy Trust, which was established in 2013, brings together 18 primary schools across Devon, Torbay and Plymouth. Through a focus on core values of collaboration, humility, respect, inclusion, stewardship and trust, the MAT’s objective is to raise the standards of education and experience offered to the 3,500 pupils in its care. The key areas in which the Trust helps schools achieve their goals include support in finance, human resources, school improvement and operations.
Rachel Martin is the Trust’s Chief Finance and People Officer. A qualified chartered accountant, Rachel worked for Deloitte UK and Bishop Fleming Chartered Accountants, as well as running her own accounting firm, before becoming a School Business Manager at Watcombe Primary School in 2012. A year later she joined St Marychurch CoE Primary School, part of St Christopher’s Multi-Academy Trust, as School Business Manager and has progressed through finance roles in the Trust to the leadership position she holds today.
“I have been involved with the Trust almost since its inception and have experienced different school finance systems during that time,” Rachel said. “When we grew to 15 schools, and had 15 year-end processes to deal with, it was then that we needed to find a budgeting, forecasting and reporting system that was stable. We tried two different systems, and whilst they improved over time, with 18 schools our progress was being hampered. We needed to find an alternative and the overwhelming value of IMP Planner is it brings a Trust-wide, consistent, perspective.”
St Christopher’s Multi-Academy Trust has been using IMP Planner since April 2021 and Rachel explained how it has already brought “both strategic and operational benefits” to them. “As a Trust we can now gather accurate data in a really straightforward way,” she said. “Once I have made a change to the inflation figure, for example, that change is applied to all schools. It brings simplicity in its centralised control which makes it less prone to error. Things that used to take 4-6 days now require an hour to review and a minute to update. So it has brought big time savings, an advantage in any sector. As a result we have more time to be strategic.”
Rachel knew of IMP Software Co-Founder Will Jordan having both worked at Bishop Fleming, albeit in different teams. “Will has an in-depth understanding of accounting and therefore brings confidence that accounting professionals have been involved in developing this system,” she revealed. “I recently had a conversation with Will about the reporting we have been doing, and building in functionality so it becomes automatic. We want to create budget reports that pull together information that the Board needs. At the same time I have the ability to drill down on the detail and look at trends, as well as considering the development needs of those who are inputting the data based on what I see. So time savings will also extend to reporting throughout the year.”
IMP Software’s approach to customer support, from implementation to product innovation, has impressed Rachel. “Implementation admittedly took slightly longer than expected, but that was down to us, and the patience shown by IMP was amazing,” she recalled. “The training has been fantastic: delivered in bite-sized weekly chunks, covering a specific topic and then move on to something different the following week. It is totally responsive to our needs and there is no limit to how much training you can have. The IMP team are great – I am really surprised at how much time they are able to give – they never say ‘no’ to providing support. It is a really good product, enhanced by the training and assistance. I also really like the Ideas Lightbulb, and the opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions on IMP Planner, which is something I have not seen before.”
Last year St Christopher’s Multi-Academy Trust took the decision to pool its income, a milestone publicised in the Trust’s 2020-21 annual report, and IMP Software is supporting that move. “We have always had enough financial resources for the Trust, but the lifecycle of schools means that some will always need more investment than others at different times, so as a family of schools we help each other by pooling income,” Rachel explained. “By allocating funding in an equitable way, we can provide the best impact on schools to get the best outcome. IMP is an important part of that: they are on the journey with us. They are always asking what they can do to help, and be more effective; it is not a case of one formula fits all.”
Moving forward, and describing IMP Planner as “my new best friend”, Rachel is excited about exploring the full potential of the system. “The forecasting functionality is going to be so valuable, and I can foresee a time within the next 18 months when we will be able to get to a forecast for three years far quicker and more easily than ever before,” she said. “We will have far more thought behind known assumptions, Trust-wide implementation of these, and for that not to be time consuming. Additionally, with the links to PS Financials for financial reporting, we can upload actuals as regularly as we like.”
She added: “We have much stronger financial management processes now. The functionality of IMP Planner supports the Trust in its future direction and gives us more time to add value strategically. I am very grateful to the Trust for allowing us to make this move during the pandemic, and at a time when there has been so much change internally through centralisation and pooling. IMP has saved valuable time during a really complicated year.”
Case study developed: September 2021