A forward-thinking school in Mayo is using technology to manage its telephony costs effectively, while reducing administration times by providing convenient cashless payments to parents for extra school activities. It’s a win-win.
Ballyhaunis Community School (BCS) in County Mayo is a mixed multi-denominational secondary school that caters for students of all abilities. Over the past five years, pupil numbers have grown by more than 150 and there are now over 500 students attending the school. With 10 feeder schools nearby, even more students are expected to join in the next few years. To cater for the growing demand, the school undertook an extensive €7 million refurbishment project in 2017. It built a new extension that includes six new classrooms, two science labs, language labs, along with a design and computer graphics suite.
“We’re very happy with the new facilities that we have on board, that they will meet the demands of our community. As a school you never rest on your laurels, you always look to improve,” says David McDonagh,the school principal.
Progressive and forward-thinking, BCS saw an opportunity to use technology to tackle two main challenges faced by the school. The first being high landline charges for its existing phone service. The second was to find an easier way for the school to manage payments. The school had been handling up to €40,000 in cash every year as pupils brought money to pay for various activities such as the book rental scheme, transition year activities, and history and geography tours. This involved counting money, bringing it from the school office to the bank and issuing receipts. This used up a large amount of office hours and was also a security risk.
The school already had high-speed internet access through HEAnet, the internet connectivity provider to the education sector. It contacted Three, whose locally based ICT specialist, Natasha Beegan, visited the school and showed how it could route all of its voice traffic over the internet using Three’s hosted telephony Ballyhaunis Community School Three technology solutions save time and money for Ballyhaunis Community School solution. This would eliminate all of its fixed-line charges. Now that the school’s front-line staff have been trained in the system, it’s simple to change call flows and out of hours voice recordings on the fly. They can easily move desk phones to different parts of the building without the need to refit cables or physical infrastructure. Three also managed the configuration of the system to ensure it worked with the HEAnet firewall rules.
Like most schools, the front office staff are often the first point of contact. Now, the school has been able to set up the hosted telephony system so that callers can be routed through to particular school services like the guidance counsellor, chaplain, special educational needs team, or accounts office. This has taken some of the workload away from the front office. “We are a modern, progressive school. When people call our offices, we have a very professional ‘front door’ in the menu of options they hear, and that gives them a very good impression,” says David.
To address the school’s cash handling challenge, Three proposed Way2Pay, its income collection system for schools. With Way2Pay, automated reminders are sent to parents as text messages at a set time of the day and parents can quickly follow the link in the message to pay from their smartphones. The system automatically sends receipts to parents. “That to me sounded like the most seamless way to get the service to be used by parents. That was ultimately the clincher for us,” adds David.
Thanks to its relationship with Three, BCS now has a scalable, flexible, technologically advanced hosted voice telephony system. The monthly price covers maintenance and support, so the school has seen significant savings since removing its costly landline. “Every school principal will tell you budgeting is a challenge and if you can make a saving without compromising on quality it’s a no-brainer. There’s no issue with quality and reliability of the lines and we’re now doing it at a cost that is much more to our advantage,” says David.
The school also appreciates the combination of local support on the ground from its dedicated Three ICT Specialist, Natasha Beegan and Account Manager, Colm Buckley, with the additional level of backing via Three’s care centre in Limerick. “I wanted my staff to feel comfortable and supported and they certainly felt that,” David adds.
He also believes the school’s move towards automated SMS payments comes at the right time. “We are in the moment where schools need to be going cashless. Parents don’t want to be paying out €15 at a time… they want to go onto their mobiles and pay at night. That’s what they expect from a school. These are the milestones that help us at Ballyhaunis Community School to achieve higher numbers of pupils in terms of first years and transfers. We like stand out from the crowd in a positive fashion.”