The Dean Trust was formed in 2012 and currently operates six secondary and four primary schools across four local authorities: Manchester, Trafford, Knowsley and Wigan. The Trust’s vision is to provide good schools for all of the communities they serve. It has a proven track record of sustained improvements in schools as well as positive Ofsted gradings. Underpinning its ambition for high standards is a commitment to an inclusive and caring community of which parents and carers can be proud.
The Trust has established strong ‘back office’ support services for the academies, including finance. Overseeing this is Chief Finance Officer (CFO) Nick David, who has worked in school-based financial management roles for 28 years. Having been Financial Manager at Ashton on Mersey School, founding school of The Dean Trust, at a time when the school became grant maintained, Nick then progressed from School Business Manager at West Trafford Learning Partnership (a federation of two schools) to his role as Trust CFO. He initially trained as an accountant before becoming Financial Controller of a private sector group of companies.
The Trust has been an IMP Planner customer since the end of 2020. “We had been using a software package for budget planning and forecasting which, when we were just five schools, was fit for purpose but it had not developed in terms of MAT-level functionality,” Nick said. “As the Trust grew we needed MAT-level visibility of budgets and forecast as opposed to dipping in and out of individual schools, even though we still needed to drill down into those schools. The ability to consolidate data to get good information and reports at MAT level was fairly limited in the package we used. Whilst we have a hybrid model in terms of centralisation – we are not fully centralised as we operate as three Hubs – we required that MAT overview.”
Having been approached by IMP Software, Nick talked to a former colleague who was “very positive about IMP Planner”. This led to him arranging a demonstration. “We had a look at the product and were immediately taken in by it,” Nick explained. “The main advantage is how it is used at MAT level, but for us it can also be used to look at Hub as well as primary and secondary level specific budgets. There is much more fluid information to manipulate, drop into Excel spreadsheets as needed, and it gives us the ability to produce Education and Skills Funding Agency returns directly from the system. Overall I believe IMP Planner leads the market in that sense – I haven’t seen anything of this quality in terms of reporting at MAT level and, for the 10 schools, we have a seamless transition from one to another within the platform.”
The goal was to implement IMP Planner for use in the Trust’s budget planning cycle for 2021-22. “Implementation was excellent, meaning we achieved that target and used it for consolidating data, MAT-level reporting and our Budget Forecast Return submission in July 2021 where it saved us a massive amount of time,” Nick said. “IMP started building the system using our own Chart of Accounts, but we changed our thinking mid-way through this build process to use the Department for Education (DfE) Chart of Accounts instead. The team at IMP were more than happy to support us with this change despite having invested time in the original brief. Planning was thorough – we had lots of scoping in terms of the staff area and the parameters around that, and the non-staff areas – with timely updates on progress and prompt responses to questions that we asked.”
Nick praised the quality of training provided by the IMP support team. “The three colleagues assigned to work with us were very helpful, and happy to have as many sessions over Teams as we wanted. They set up specific training sessions, and later some optional ‘drop-in’ sessions if any of our finance team were unable to progress with something. Overall, it was very thorough indeed.” Nick also commented on the live chat feature within IMP. “I have never seen anything like that in any other finance system, it is brilliant, when compared to the more common online helpdesks/emails where a ticket is raised. It is more personal, the level of responsiveness so much better, and this has played a big part post-implementation. As IMP has been built using the DfE Chart of Accounts, we have dropped in data from PS Financials and have a totally integrated approach.”
Having gained immediate benefit from IMP Planner, Nick said the next step is making use of the product’s forecasting functionality. “The whole relationship is going to be hugely beneficial for the Trust,” he revealed. “Operationally, success is for our finance teams to have the ability to work more efficiently in budget planning and forecasting, and to get more sophisticated reports out of the system for leadership teams and governing bodies. The way the system operates, including linking to our accounting system and moving seamlessly from one school to the other, will make their jobs easier and improve the quality and presentation of complex finance data, forecasts and budget scenarios to all our stakeholders. Strategically, we can give Trustees and the Audit Committee enhanced visibility of different budget scenarios, which will enable them to scrutinise and challenge in a highly focused way. Ultimately they can work with the executive team on finance resource allocation with much clearer data.”
Nick also suggested that IMP Planner would help to support future developments in the Trust’s budget model. “It is sometimes challenging to balance budgets of individual schools due to the local variations in the National Funding Formula,” he said. “The Trust is therefore considering an approach that uses the ability to pool GAG funds if this leads to a more efficient way to distribute funds into the budgets of our schools to facilitate resourcing the curriculum that we believe is right for our pupils. We are also consulting at all levels of the Trust’s governance and leadership on a new centralised model for the management and control of reserves balances.”
Case study developed: August 2021