Heads all know (though not a lot of other people do) that when you say "School Fund", you do not mean the official budget which pays for teachers and lavatory brushes. School fund is the generic name for the moneybox containing, for example, the tuckshop takings and the ticket money from the Christmas concert.
Payments from it cover a host of items, from the children's Christmas party to the netball team's new socks. The local authority, although deeply concerned with the minutiae of what happens to its delegated budget, wisely keeps the school fund at arm's length, provided that county hall auditors are generally content with the way things are handled.
Running a school fund, therefore, is an extra job for someone often the school secretary, and it can be very time-consuming. There are days when people queue to make lots of individual small payments, under a range of headings, and the production of final accounts can take several hours and a lot of frustration. Many school secretaries end up doing this job in their own time.
The obvious answer is to use the office computer. However, although some large management information systems have modules for school funds, by no means all of them do. Which is why I was interested when heads started to tell me how useful they were finding a computerised school fund accounting system from MJ Informatics.
MJI's Mike Herrick says that he "wanted to write a program that was forgiving. It doesn't start saying what you should do; it allows you to work in the way you operated before".
Significantly, although there has been no advertising, School Fund Manager, launched in 1992, has spread by word of mouth to over 1,000 schools in 30 authorities. Chris Stafford, secretary at Oakdale Middle School in Dorset, sums up what I heard from both primary and secondary users: "It simplifies the whole of our school fund accounting it does what you need to do with the minimum of effort".
And at the 1,000-pupil South Bromsgrove High School, School Fund Manager helps to handle a fund with an annual turnover of over Pounds 200,000, made up, explains head James Baker, "of voluntary contributions from parents, finance for all the holidays, field work and ski trips. There's trading income, too, from such things as the sale of rugby shirts, and the proceeds of the Coke machine". Mr Baker is pleased with the package. "We've been very impressed by its simplicity in use, and by the telephone back-up from MJI not that we've needed to use it very often."
The system provides, as well as the facility to enter receipts and record payments, five menus: Lists and Queries; Bank and Cash; Amendments; System Menu and Archive. Lists and Queries, for example, has nine options, including summary balance, search receiptspayments-by-name and list all receiptspaymentstransfers.
Bank and Cash also offers nine options including List Cash Transactions and List Unreconciled Bank Entries. The system is easy to learn, although Mr Baker took the precaution of taking it home and running a dummy fund for six months, finishing with an end-of-year closedown. "That gave me some clues as to what to expect."
Mr Baker is particularly pleased that the school's auditors found the system acceptable. In fact they were delighted with it. You can follow the trail it's fraud proof and audit proof.
School Fund Manager costs Pounds 259 plus VAT. This includes three months' support and maintenance; telephone helpline and on-line training. Enquiries to MJ Informatics, 6 Hampden Road, Flitwick, Bedfordshire. MK45 1HX. Tel: 01525 714288