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How to Get the Best Out of Your School Payroll System

Our top tips for handling your own successful payroll system

Interpreting long-winded contracts, detailed awards and complying with employment law can be a headache — even for the most seasoned payroll officers. In fact, one of the most common jobs we get asked about at Cole School Experts is payroll consultancy for schools

Whether your school employs a handful of staff or your team is in the hundreds, there are a multitude of contractual agreements and conditions you need to keep on top of. It can quite easily become an overwhelming task to pay each staff member correctly and on time.

And, since The Great Resignation, it’s a safe bet that most schools are doubling up on responsibilities and handing administrative duties, like payroll, over to an already overworked staff member

The good news? Clear documentation, a little organisation and a concise handover can work wonders for making sure your staff pay is processed seamlessly and without any errors, relieving a lot of unnecessary stress. 

Need a little help? That’s where we come in. Here are our top tips for setting your school up for payroll success.

Centralise all payroll information and keep it up to date

As we mentioned, clear documentation is the key to minimising any mistakes. Having all your contracts, agreements, awards and the relevant legal information in one central location makes updating easier and life for payroll staff much less stressful. 

But keeping your payroll up to date doesn’t just include documentation. It’s also important to keep your payroll software current, making sure that your staff understands your specific school payroll system and all its complexities.

Every staff member should have an up-to-date contract

To make sure payroll staff have up-to-date information, each staff member should have their latest contract on file. Unfortunately, many schools are working with old contracts, and patching together payroll information based on discussions with team members and incorrect information.

Staff contract letters should include:

  • Their FTE (full time equivalent) information
  • Their current Step/Grade
  • Their current EB/Award
  • The days and hours worked
  • Minimum engagement hours of their direct reports

If any staff take on extra roles within the school – even if it’s casual – there should be a separate letter for this role that includes their pay, days and hours worked (if these are known). If not properly registered, payroll systems may process their extra hours as overtime for their current role – at an entirely incorrect rate. 

In fact, any new contracts should be added to the payroll database from the get-go so that staff information is always available. Having to search through files and backpay is a pain, so this step is important.

New payroll staff should be onboarded following a standard procedure

When a new payroll staff member joins your team, they should receive a detailed handbook or document that includes where to find information internally, helpful external links to sources such as Fairwork Australia and the ATO, and any extra information about the payroll system you use.

Providing information from external sources also makes everybody aware of their expectations in terms of their immediate role within the school as well as their legal obligations under the government.

Every staff member should be trained to regard your payroll database as the only source of truth, checking and updating it regularly. If anyone has any questions about payment or needs to check the information, you can be sure that all the answers are there and that your team is covered.

Remember: if in any doubt, refer staff to the current award and latest contracts and regularly remind them to brush up on their knowledge.

Final considerations

When directing payroll for schools, it’s important to remember that not all teachers start on the same day of the year, meaning not all their required pay days will be the same; for example, new staff may be required to start on 24 January, even though their contracted start date of the term is 1 February.

Always be aware of any minimum engagements within your contracts, enterprise agreement or relevant employment awards; for example, some casual relief teachers only engaged for a one-hour lesson may actually be obligated to be paid for half a day of work.


There are many intricacies involved in processing school pay – trust us, we know. This is why having clear documentation that is up to date and easy to access is a MUST. 

It’s a tricky job, but with some solid organisation and pre-planning, your payroll can run like a well-oiled machine. 

And if you’re still struggling – give us a call. Outsourcing your payroll consultancy can help solve a lot of issues and avoid extra hassle.