Lostock Hall Academy is a small 550-pupil secondary that completed the academy conversion process in 2011.
On the outskirts of Preston, the school’s most notable alumnus is the straight-talking Lancastrian Tim Farron, who currently leads the Liberal Democrats in Westminster.
Decades later, the academy’s Finance Director has earned a similar reputation for straightforwardness.
Kim Gill has to get straight to the point because she doesn’t have any time to waste.
Kim’s concerns about underfunding and time shortages are by no means unique. They will be familiar to education finance leaders right across the country.
“We know we aren’t the only school that’s feeling the pinch at the moment. But you can’t just accept it and let it get the better of you,” Kim said.
Determined to fight on, Lostock Hall Academy started looking for an effective budgeting system and accounting platform that could replace time-consuming spreadsheets.
Kim said: “There were some things that I just couldn’t do on Excel. And in any case, it took too long and wasn’t accurate enough for what I needed.”
Kim has used HCSS Budgeting to manage her budget for more than three years.
With a positive experience of HCSS during that time, Kim was one of the first to enquire about HCSS Accounting when the software launched in September last year.
Finding enough time has always been a problem for Kim. She describes her role as “full-time, and then some.”
Kim is always under pressure to get work finished. And each year it feels like she has less time and fewer resources.
Upgrading to HCSS Education software has helped Kim and her team cope with challenges.
She said: “HCSS Budgeting and HCSS Accounting save us so much time in terms of man hours. Before, when I was budgeting, I would use Excel and it was so much more time consuming.
“When it came to things like forecasting staffing cost increases and changes to the pension scheme, I just had no idea how to do it. And if you make a mistake with a formula in Excel then you can be thousands of pounds out. So it’s not just about saving time, it’s about the accuracy of the system too.”
Kim’s role means that she regularly liaises with school governors to report on progress and the health of the school’s finances.
While managing these key relationships, the reporting functions on HCSS Budgeting and HCSS Accounting have proved invaluable.
“The HCSS Budgeting dashboard is just fantastic, I can’t recommend it highly enough,” Kim said.
She continued: “Knowing that I can create reports that show complex figures and projections in a way that’s easy for governors to understand is so useful.
“Everything is easy to use and the software is very intuitive.”
Ultimately, the decision to use HCSS Accounting was determined by the company’s reputation, the price of the software and the company’s focus on the future.
“I know HCSS has been involved in education finance for a long time, and they came highly recommended by a number of colleagues.
“When we chose HCSS Accounting, the price was a major factor, but we were also swayed by the company’s forward thinking attitude and their plans for extra features in the future.”
HCSS Budgeting and HCSS Accounting have saved Kim lots of time in the working day. They have also made it easier to communicate with governors and made accounts more accurate.
Kim is already planning for how she will get more out of the software in the future.
“Because we started with HCSS Accounting halfway through the financial year, it meant that there was a bit of a mismatch between the accounting and budgeting software,” Kim said.
She continued: “This year has been a bit of a learning curve, but next year I plan to get everything set up correctly and educate my staff on how to get the most out of the software.”
Under careful financial management, the school as a whole has performed consistently well over the last few years. Lostock Hall Academy has stayed above national attainment averages and was awarded a rating of ‘Good’ in Ofted’s last inspection.
Kim remains optimistic about the future despite pressing challenges.
She said: “We’re facing lots if issues with underfunding and keeping the school financially secure feels like a full-time job.
“But having the right tools for the job makes my life a bit easier.”